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Extra-Curricular Activities Can Pose Extra Stress on Families
By Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE

It is a common issue . . . we want our kids to spend their non-school time wisely, but they often watch more TV than we would prefer. In spite of activities to structure their time, we have to look at other ways to keep kids busy so they are not caught in the TV trap.

Parents are wise to limit kids' TV watching to a couple of hours each day. It's a difficult limit to stick to, but if parents can establish this habit early on, it's easier. Selective TV watching prevents children (and adults) from turning into couch potatoes with withered brain cells.

Many parents turn to activities to keep their kids busy. They often live in their cars and have forgotten what their spouse looks like. Parents fall into the over-scheduling trap for a variety of reasons. The first motive is the healthiest and the last is the most damaging:

  • Parents want their children to use their time wisely but accidentally take on too much.

  • Children want to do everything. Parents don't want to disappoint them or hear endless nagging, so they let them.

  • Parents keep children busy so they won't get into trouble, instead of teaching children how to make planned responsible decisions to be "good" children.

  • Some parents want their children to experience every opportunity - all at once, which is overwhelming.

  • Now and then, parents expect their children to be super-achievers, whatever the cost.

To determine whether your family's schedule needs to be scaled back, ask, "Does my child want to do all these activities or do I want them to?" When parents register children for activities without asking children first, it's a huge red flag that parents need to back off. If children want to do everything, think "moderation" and remember that responsible parents do not give children everything they want.

The reality is that when anyone adds too many kettles to the fire, they are bound to get burned out. Over-scheduling often affects children's schoolwork, quality family time and increases the stress levels of the children and parents involved. The long term result of over-scheduling is a generation of stressed-out workaholics who don't know how to set priorities, say "no," focus on one task, and have balance in their lives. What? WE are part of a generation of stressed-out workaholics?

Then we need to break the cycle. Children need "down time" as much as adults do. They need time to play and just be a kid - even teens. Will they get bored? Probably. But they need to learn how to use their imaginations to handle boredom creatively and responsibly.

To regain control of your family life and reduce scheduling stress, establish a policy of two activities per season. Have children rotate seasonal activities or reach one goal, then strive for another. Also, families need time together when they aren't eating, driving or discussing schedules and life-changing issues. Weekly family time is one activity worth scheduling.

Setting limits on activities teaches children important skills and values that benefit them as adults. They learn how to budget their time and responsibilities and to handle disappointment. These children know how to set priorities and concentrate on doing their best at a few chosen activities. Rarely are activities "once in a lifetime" opportunities. Usually, there is a time and season for every activity. We and our children just need to pace ourselves, instead of racing to do everything all at once.

About the Author:
Jody PawelJody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is a second-generation parent educator, founder of The Family Network, award-winning author of The Parent's Toolshop book and President of Parents Toolshop Consulting. She has 25+ years experience as a workshop trainer and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including Parents magazine and the Ident-a-Kid television series. She currently serves as the online parenting expert for Cox Ohio Publishing's mom-to-mom websites and also serves on the Advisory Board of the National Effective Parenting Initiative.

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