Involvement in after-school activities develops our children's social skills, discipline and strengthens their sense of responsibility and teamwork. It's our job as parents, however, to help our kids balance these activities with family life, homework and downtime. The following tips are a good place to begin:
1. Schedule lessons for every second week rather than weekly. Give your child the free day to practice or as playtime.
2. Set up a carpooling arrangement so siblings aren't spending their precious time taking "Jimmy to karate."
3. Be mindful that activities might push back your child's bedtime. If after-school classes or sports run until dinner and homework is packed into the evening hours, what time is your daughter hitting the hay?
4. Are family dinners a reality in your household? If activities make eating dinner together impossible during the week, consider establishing a Sunday meal as mandatory family time. Everyone attends and stays until the final dish is washed and put away. The menu isn't important
5. Make sure the weekends are a time to rest, daydream and recharge for the week ahead.
6. If you child resists taking a class or signing up for a sport, don't insist, but rather listen to her reasons with an open mind. Sort out whether:
- You are overly attached to her being a success in this area
- She has had a negative experience in the past with this or another activity
- She is overwhelmed with obligations
- She is afraid to fail
- She needs gentle encouragement to give new things a try
- It would be more fun to do with a friend
7. Begin to honor the value of free time in your child's life. Create space in the day for unstructured, open-ended, quiet-time. If your sixth grader checks her Palm before scheduling a get-together with girlfriends, then puts them off for two weeks when she has her first free moment, it's time to reevaluate!
8. Create a "no-technology time" in your house and turn off the computers, DVDs, Gameboys, TVs, phones, beepers, Playstations, fax machines, and Walkmans. How great for your kids to "get bored" -- that's where creativity flows in, that's when their inner voice can finally be heard.
9. Designate one night a week as Family Night. Rent a movie, pop some popcorn, light a fire and simply be together with no rushing.
10. Our role as parents is to help our kids find their passions, then support them as they explore those passions in a healthy, balanced way. Take a moment and examine your own life. Are you over-scheduled and exhausted or finding pockets of time to explore what gives you joy? You are a mirror for your child -- reflect an adult who manages her schedule with intention and balance.
We love our kids and want to provide everything we can to see them enriched, empowered and successful. In the midst of all this busyness, however, children are starving for their parents' attention. What their souls crave much more than another lesson is the loving presence of an adult who listens and cares deeply. They need less pressure to perform and more time to ponder. Kids yearn for a relationship with their mom and dad -- keep that in mind when planning their activities!
Award-winning author Mimi Doe is the founder of www.SpiritualParenting.com and the author of Busy but Balanced: Creating Calmer, Closer Families (St. Martin's Press) and 10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting (HarperCollins). Her newsletter, Spiritual Parenting Thought for the Week, has thousands of subscribers from around the world.