Parenting Lessons: Step One: Simplifying Your Child's Life

Soccer practice, piano lessons, play dates, dance class, karate lessons … our children’s schedules are jam-packed with activities. No wonder -- as parents, we want our children to take advantage of every opportunity to enrich their lives, and so we encourage them to learn new skills, go out for sports teams, join playgroups. But experts estimate that as many as 76 percent of children today are over-scheduled, resulting in kids who are anxious, stressed and even profoundly unhappy.

The admissions director at Harvard recently said they want to see applicants who care more about their lives than manicuring their resumes.

Through lessons and exercises, this workshop will help you figure out how much your child can truly handle, how to decide which activities to keep and which to drop, and how to make cutting back really work in your family. And there’s also something in it for you -- while you’re simplifying your child’s life, you’ll be simplifying your own life, too.

The dangers of kids who are too busy
Ironically, children who lead over-scheduled lives may fail to develop the skills that really will lead to success in life. They spend so much time on structured activities that they often miss some of the most important experiences of childhood -- experiences that form the foundation for happy, fulfilling adult lives. These children don’t have time to explore the world at their own pace, to develop their own unique set of interests and to indulge in the sort of creative fantasy play that helps them figure out who they really are. And, too often, they fail to learn how to sensibly schedule their own time. Frequently anxious and stressed, they may not forge the intimate connections with their parents and friends that build true self-esteem. And these deficits may have lasting effects. The admissions director at Harvard recently said they want to see applicants who care more about their lives than manicuring their resumes, and there is evidence that soon more colleges will be saying the same thing.

Source for over-scheduled child statistic is provided by Metlife's Survey of the American Teacher, 2000

How to tell if your child is over-scheduled
It's not always easy to determine whether or not your child's busy life is beneficial or detrimental. Some children thrive on doing several things at once. Some families tolerate a busy schedule far better than others. Start by taking the Is Your Child Over-Scheduled? quiz. Then come back to do this exercise -- you may be surprised at the results.

In this step, you must take a hard look at your child's schedule. To do that, write out a typical week's worth of your child's activities on a blank sheet of paper or a clean calendar you use only for this workshop. Fill in information for each day, hour by hour, keeping separate columns for "structured activities" and "unstructured time." As you do this exercise, think about the fact that kids' schedules should be balanced between time spent socializing and participating in activities, time spent on homework and/or academic enrichment, and downtime that they can use as they choose. Is your child's schedule weighted too heavily in one direction?

In Step Two, we'll look at how your priorities and values for your family match up with your kids' schedules, and begin the process of rescheduling.

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