Parenting Lessons: Step Four: Cutting Back -- How to Make it Work

After analyzing your child’s schedule and exploring your values, it’s time to finally simplify your child’s life - and your own - by removing an activity or two from the calendar.

In order to truly cut back on activities, every member of the family must be aware of and comfortable with the changes, especially since in today’s society, with pressures from your community, from experts and from society at large to live and parent a certain way, it’s easy to forget that your family life is meant to be your own creation. To make your new, less structured schedule work, you can't worry about what other people say and do. Remember that only you know what's right for your family. Keep in mind that every family is unique and must find its own way in the world - based on its own values and priorities, its own strengths, its own interests.

One of the best things you can do for your children is to let them have the free time to develop their inner lives.

Sure, there are parents out there whose kids manage, somehow, to juggle several sports, flute lessons, and advanced French classes in one season. Are they better parents? Will their children have an advantage over yours, now and in the future? Absolutely not. We all want the best for our children. In fact, more often than not, we put their happiness ahead of our own. But one of the best things you can do for your children is to let them have the free time to develop their inner lives, to imagine and create new worlds all their own.

Make smart activity cuts
You don't have to overhaul your child's schedule dramatically today. Make changes slowly, and give yourself and your child time to get used to the new calendar. Go back to the marked up schedule you and your child worked on during the last step. Look at the activities that received neither a check from you (indicating it was important for your personal values or to your family priorities) or a star from your child (indicating it was important to them for their own reasons). Weigh the costs of these activities - in time, energy, logistical effort, stress and expense - against the benefits for you, your child and the rest of your family. Then, with your child’s okay, cross out at least one thing - and promise yourself that you won’t slot something else there.

Ideally, there will be at least one unchecked activity to cut, one that neither you nor your child will miss. If, however, you and your child are in disagreement about which activity to drop, you will need to work out a compromise. Your best bet is to find an activity that can be dropped for now and picked up again later should your child really miss it. For example, it will be easier to cut music lessons for a few weeks than to quit and later rejoin a sports team. Once your child has adjusted, she may not miss the activity as much as she feared, and, hopefully, will be enjoying a simpler schedule with more free time.

Over the next few weeks, notice how it feels not to rush your child to do something during that time slot. If your child still seems overscheduled, try crossing out, with your child’s okay, another activity that fills another time. When you feel that you have created a healthier mix of structured and unstructured time for your child, make a clean, new schedule and put a copy of it on the refrigerator or family bulletin board.


Eventually, you may want to cut back even more. Some families make firm rules (such as one sport per child per season) while others make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Now that you’ve re-evaluated your schedule, be sure to put any new activities through the same evaluation process before you sign up. And finally, remember to spend time with your child being “bored” together. Not only will you be sending him or her the message that unscheduled time is important, you are telling them that you enjoy them enough just to be together, with no apparent goal, and nothing bolsters self-esteem more effectively and reminds your child how much you love them.

Set a good example
Know, too, that how you live your life in front of your child matters more than how you tell him he ought to be living his. So be sure to look at your own activity load with the same critical eye you look at your child’s schedule. Live the values that are important to you, because your children will emulate your daily conduct, as they grow up and when they go out into the world. Let your children enjoy their new, simpler lives as you enjoy it, too.

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