How much is too much for young kids?

 

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Ballet recital for my daughter in royal blue before swimming took over their lives.

I read a question from a mom wondering what to do because her eight-year-old doesn’t love swim practice as much as the other activities she’s doing. She wondered if anyone else had experienced this and what she should do. She also mentioned that her daughter is really good at swimming, wins ribbons, and also has tons of other activities.

 

How many activities are too much for a child? From CNN several years ago I read “Overscheduled kids, anxious parents” by Josh Levs:

“Parents need to teach their kids to balance human doing with human being,” said clinical psychologist Paula Bloom.
Kids need to know they’re not defined by what they do, she said. They need time to play, experiment, rest and figure out who they are.
“As parents, we’ve got to get over our anxiety that we’re not doing enough. Creating a sense of safety, helping kids have confidence to try certain things, those are the things that matter.”
As kids get older, they’ll show you more and more what they’re interested in, Bloom notes.
And, yes, we all make mistakes.
“As adults, your kids are going to tell their therapists, ‘Oh my parents never let me play piano,’ or some other activity. It’s going to happen. Being able to tolerate that is really important.”

When my kids were little, I kept them really busy. We didn’t have a neighborhood where they could go out the door and play. We had to schedule playdates. Then we got into signing them up with their friends for countless activities like tennis, golf, ballet and swimming lessons. One mom would say she heard about an activity and wanted to sign her child up if mine did, too. Pretty soon, my kids didn’t have a night after school without a scheduled activity.

When I was a kid, I’d go home after school and after 30 minutes to an hour of homework, I didn’t have too much to do. I think a lot of downtime allowed me to be creative, reflective and of course, hit that list of chores that Mom always left us to do.

What did we do without structured activities? Sometimes, my brother and I would fight. But mostly we made forts in the woods, whacked out trails with machetes through blackberry brambles, and rode bikes around a three-mile loop. We were pretty active and unsupervised with our imaginations running wild.

Advice for the mom of the eight-year-old? I think eight years old is pretty young to be committed to one sport—especially if she’s not wildly passionate about it and wants to do something else. Let her experience a variety of activities. Maybe swim seasonally or take a break and go back to it. We can’t want it more than our kids.

There’s plenty of time at eight-years-old for a child to be a child. There’s plenty of time for a year-round commitment in the years ahead. And maybe it won’t be in swimming.

Here’s a list from Kidspot from Bron Maxabella from an article called “How many extra-curricular activities should kids do?”

Signs the kids have too much on:

However, there are signs that are madly flashing to say we’ve overstretched ourselves. They may even be saying that we’re heading for a giant crash. Here are some of them:

  • The kids have started digging in about not going to the classes I want them to go to (still happy to go to their choices though!).
  • Each week feels like I’m on the rat wheel, driving from one place to another and arranging one child to go in that direction and another to go over there. The logistics are making my head spin.
  • The kids are doing a lot of things, but not many of them at their full potential.
  • There is only one school night a week (Friday) when no one has anything on.
  • There is hardly any time to just hang out together or have a mate over after school – this is probably the worst thing of all.
  • We don’t have enough time in the week to get homework done satisfactorily.
  • The kids are getting emotional and naughty because they’re tired, so everyone is crying and yelling far more than they should be.
  • It is getting harder and harder for the kids to unwind at night and even harder for them to get up in the morning.

Basically, by mid-term everyone is exhausted and by end-of-term we’re in a bit of a mess! The kids are tired, I’m tired, the whole routine is tired. We need a proper time out!

 

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My kids did have time to play super heroes.

How many days a week should kids have activities and how do you determine what is too much?

 

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Inspiration Can Be a Daily Thing

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Back in the day: summer vacation in Laguna Beach.

When my college roommate was visiting after Thanksgiving, I would hear her phone ping every morning with texts.

Her mom, who is in her 80s, lives alone and asks that my college roommate and her two brothers make some contact via text every morning. That way, they know that she’s okay.

I’d hear the familiar ping of my friend’s phone. She’d say, “That’s from mom. Listen to what she has to say today….”

Then she’d read an inspirational quote that her mom sent. Her brothers would chime in and my friend would respond as well.

I thought, what a great idea. I’m a terrible worrier, and if I don’t hear from my kids for a few days or weeks, I get more worried. With one child in the Bay area and the other in Utah, I feel like they’re both too far away. I sent my kids a group text and explained how it would work. We would send an inspiring note to each other by noon each day. It only takes a moment, we’d check in and pass along some inspiration. Also, I’d know that they were okay.

“Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” —Swami Sivananda

That was my first text. I told them, “Now you guys need to respond by noon with a quote or a ok thanks,” I texted.

“Would that be ‘an’ okay, thanks. Not a,” my daughter texted back.

She then responded with a meme with the following words:

“What are a few things that have inspired you lately?

To be better than everyone. Cause I hate everyone.”

I take it she wasn’t enjoying my inspirational quote thing so much.

My son responded with “I don’t like inspirational quotes, so here is a good painting.”

A Vase of Roses–Van Gogh, 1890

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The next day, I sent a quote and my daughter responded with “Eew that’s so and so’s bio on Twitter. New quote please.”

I sent “Winners never quit. Quitters never win.” It was a quote we had on the back of our swim club’s shirts a few years ago.

“Except Michael Phelps quit and he’s a winner,” she pointed out. Yes, she’s right about that, too.

My son sent a painting by Henri Matisse.img_2866

“I like it. It reminds me of spongebob,” my daughter said.

“Fun fact: the spongebob art was inspired by his cut-outs,” he answered.

My daughter texted this:img_9775

It’s been interesting to see what they come up with on a daily basis. It adds a little joy to my day like we’re sharing special secrets.

And then my son called, “Thank you, Mom, for starting the inspiration thing. I really love it.”

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Me and my college roommate.

 

When is it enough already with posting photos of our kids on Facebook?

 

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An example of a photo my daughter would not like me to post on Facebook.

 

Just to be perfectly clear, I post lots of photos of my kids. That said, I read an article this morning where an 18-year-old is suing her mom and dad for posting her life on Facebook. It will be enlightening to see if she wins her case. 

I’ve also read articles where it’s dangerous to post your young children’s photos on FB. Here’s an interesting read that explores the pros and cons of posting kids photos from the Wall Street Journal.

My daughter doesn’t like it when I post old photos of her on Facebook. I need to ask her approval before posting any pictures of her.

I’ve got some great old photos, too. I find them all sweet, funny, cute. She says friends on her swim team scour parents FB pages to find embarrassing photos to tweet.

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Christmas 1996. How could I possibly resist posting this?

My son blocked me from his FB, because I didn’t approve of things he was posting and made the mistake of telling him about it. Because I was blocked, I missed the post where he tried to give away our cat and got quite a few takers. You can read more about that here.

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Olive the kitten my son tried to give away online.

Isn’t it amazing how different our children’s lives are growing up with social media? We had a chance to escape the pressure of posting selfies, sushi and all the fun and smiles, all the time. We hung out at pizza parlors, long after our salads or slices were finished. We went to football games and dances in the small gym afterwards. We spent time together. We laughed and talked. When we weren’t face-to-face, we had an old-fashioned telephone and talked for hours. We also had downtime and privacy. Lots of it.

I wonder what is going to happen to our kids whose lives are on display? They don’t know anything else and even if we stop posting their pictures, they’ll do it on their own.

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What I Would Do Differently

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My young Piranhas.

If I could go back in time, say 15 or so years, I’d do things differently as a parent and a swim mom. I’ve loved every minute of being a swim parent and truly believe that signing my kids up for our local club, the Piranha Swim Team, was the single best thing we’ve done for them. Sticking with the team through ups and downs was a plus, too. Not only did my kids become crazily physically fit and skilled swimmers, they learned to never give up through tough times—whether it was an illness, a plateau or learning what a new coach expects.

So what would I do differently? Here’s my list:

One
Not focus on performance.

Sometimes, I get way too caught up in big meets and best times. I wish I could kick back, relax and enjoy the little moments more.

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Medals at a meet.

Two
Not get involved in parent drama.

Like most sports today, where you find a bunch of enthusiastic and involved parents, there’s bound to be some drama. If I could do it over, I’d never take sides or get involved. At times, I didn’t have a choice because of being on the board. But, the drama and problems we lived through don’t amount to beans, anymore.

Three
Realize everybody is different.

Not every swimmer has the same drive or goals. Not every family is going to focus their lives around the pool. It’s okay for some kids to skip practice and have other interests besides school and swimming. I’d be less judgmental if I got a do over!

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Signing day.

Four
Not compare my kids to others.

When my kids were young and new to swimming, it was common for us to compare their progress to other swimmers. That led to upset feelings all around. Looking back on it, things that seemed so big at the moment, were only a fleeting moment in time.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

Five
Enjoy every moment of the process.

The years go by so quickly. The friends made with other parents, coaches and officials are ones to treasure. Enjoy it all.

What would you do differently as a swim parent?

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Back when my daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

“You’re Only as Happy as Your Least Happiest Child”

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My kids not wanting me to take their pic.

“You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” I heard a friend say this recently. I do believe it’s true. When you see your kids happy, you’re happy, too. When they are smiling and proud of their accomplishments or in love, we feel thrilled for them.

On the flip side, when they’re struggling, we have an ache in our hearts.

My son had a horrific last week of college, but managed to get through it alive. I got several phone calls where he wasn’t sure if he’d make it. He had five papers, plus finals, and I doubt he slept much.

I kept telling him, “You’re under the flags. Keep going. You can do it.”

I also received relieved phone calls as each hurdle was overcome. Today, he’s coming home for a brief stop before he starts his new life. I’m a worrier and I’m wondering how is he sleeping? How is he going to drive a U-Haul trailer with his worldly possessions up to his new life? How will he survive on his own?

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The city pool where my kids swam club and I swim masters.

My daughter was home for a week and it was a pure joy for me. She got me out of bed at 4:50 a.m. and drove me to swim practice. I loved the beauty of the early morning and the shifting lights in the water as the sun rose. By the time we were done, I felt elated. It wasn’t even 7 a.m. and I felt like I had accomplished so much. I hope to continue on with the early morning practices, although I must admit I’m back to my noon routine today. At least I’m going. Right?

Besides swimming, we hiked at the Tram, went shopping, got pedicures, went out to lunch and hung out together. The constant activity was different than my normal quiet writing days.

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Hiking on Mt.San Jacinto, PS Tramway.

I love having my kids home. But, I’m proud they have their own lives and are ready to take on the world without me.

P.S. On the last morning, my daughter, husband and I took a walk. We noticed we had company. Olive the cat followed quietly a few feet behind us. We’d stop to look at her and she’d look the other way. Finally, we stopped several blocks away to admire an apricot standard poodle. Olive decided that was enough. She stopped for good. When we returned home, several miles later, Olive was nowhere to be found. I retraced our steps and called “Here kitty, kitty.” She leaped out of the bushes across the street from where we saw the poodle. She was terrified and confused. She wouldn’t let me touch her but after one pitiful “meow” she followed me. When she finally recognized our neighborhood, her tail went up and she jetted all the way to our house leaving me behind.

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Olive the cat.

The Roller Coaster Ride of Parenting

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My son and swim team friends years ago.

We were leaving tomorrow for my son’s college graduation. I’m packed and I was on my way to swim practice when he texted me. He said he has a bunch of papers that are due on Monday and he doesn’t have time for graduation activities.

It’s been a tough quarter for him with prolonged illness—weeks and weeks of getting sick and staying sick.

The announcements are out. The celebratory dinner was set, grandpa’s hotel room booked. We have friends and family coming in for the graduation ceremony. But, one thing will be missing. My son.

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The day we moved my son into his dorm room at UCSB.

He’s planning on graduating, mind you. But, he doesn’t have time to celebrate and attend the activities. Seriously, why did his college schedule the ceremony the weekend before finals and when papers are due? I don’t know the answer to this. 

On my daughter’s side, we spent the weekend at her target meet to qualify for Olympic Trials. She swam well, made it to finals, but didn’t achieve the cuts she was looking for. She’s been so close, but in all honesty, it’s too bad she tripped and sprained her ankle last summer, chasing a bus. My point is that it’s hard to make a cut at a last ditch meet. There’s too much pressure and it might have been easier to make it during last year’s long course season.

Do I love my children any less? No, I do not. In fact, I’d say they are truly growing up and experiencing the difficulties of adulthood. Disappointments do occur. Things do not always go as planned. It’s how we react and handle ourselves that will determine success or failure. I don’t want them to give up on their dreams.

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Open Water Nats at Lake Castaic, July 2014. Photo by Anne Lepesant.

Sometimes They Fall to the Ground Before They Fly Away

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“Sometimes when they leave the nest, they have to fall to the ground before they learn to fly.”

I was at a swim meet this past weekend, talking to a longtime coach friend of mine. The “leaving the nest bird analogy” was his answer to my question about if you should let your children fail. Or, continue to support them at all costs and bail them out of trouble?

When is it time to say no? In my opinion and according some of my best friends, at some point you have to put your foot down and no longer give in. The sooner you do that, the better off they will be.

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My son at Laguna Beach.

 

Is this “tough love” or is it merely letting our kids face reality and consequences?

My son, who is a bright, loving person, has struggled through some of his college years. His first year, he was in an accident and looking back, he should have taken a hardship withdrawal. Now, in his final quarter of school, he’s been sick for at least six straight weeks. He wants to take a hardship withdrawal now—with only four weeks left before he graduates.

Literally, it kills me. In the very least, it sickens my heart. I want him to finish, but we’ve drawn a line in the sand. We will not give him a dime more for college. He’ll have to figure this out for himself. In fact, I told him that if he withdraws from college now, he’ll have to come home. We aren’t paying for him to live in Santa Barbara without going to school. No, we’re not paying for next quarter, either.

Are we being too hard? I don’t think so. It would be easy to give in.

robertUnfortunately, I didn’t allow him to fail when the consequences weren’t so high. I was one of those helicopter parents rushing to school with forgotten papers, etc. I did him no favors by saving him from small failures. 

He’s thought through his options and I’m happy to say, he’s sticking with school. However, I came to the realization, that whatever path he takes, it’s his decision and his life. There isn’t a right or wrong way to go. It would not be the end of the world if he didn’t get his college degree in June. It isn’t my first choice for him, don’t get me wrong. But, if he had to work for a couple years and save the money to finish college, he’d learn a lot. He may even appreciate the opportunities we’ve provided for him.

Nobody told me parenting would be so hard.

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Fly Away
by Lenny Kravitz
“I wish that I could fly
Into the sky
So very high
Just like a dragonfly
I’d fly above the trees
Over the seas in all degrees
To anywhere I please”
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