As parents, it’s tempting to give our kids the best of everything. There are so many activities you can sign your kids up for, sports, academics, and all kinds of interests. It’s nice when you can give your kids the things you wish you had when you were a kid.
This can turn into overparenting.
You’re overparenting when you spend so much time running from kid activity to kid activity that you have no time to do other things. Your kids don’t have time to just be themselves, and it’s hard to get them together with friends, because everyone is always at an activity.
Take a look at what your kids do. Do they have time for themselves or are they always in some sort of formal activity? Think back to your own childhood. Maybe that was how you were raised or maybe you had lots of free time to be yourself.
Free time to themselves is one of the gifts you can give your children. They need to know how to entertain themselves. There is nothing wrong with letting your kids play in the backyard or even in the front yard if they’re old enough and the neighborhood is appropriate.
How Many Activities?
It can be hard deciding how many activities are right for your child. Some of it depends on your family and your routines. If you’re running out of time to just relax as a family, you might have too many activities going on.
This isn’t always a bad thing. Kids in theater, for example, are going to have times where all their free time is eaten up by rehearsals and such. Sports can get intense too. If you can break up those times so that between plays your kids have time to be with friends and just relax, those utterly swamped times can be balanced out somewhat.
During the school year, you need to make sure that kids have enough time for homework and downtime. My kids’ school offers a lot of clubs, even at the elementary level, so I tell them they can sign up for no more than one or two. If one is high demand, I’d suggest sticking with just the one.
I do the same for summer, even though there’s more free time. Some things I insist upon – all my kids have taken swimming lessons until they complete all the levels available locally. It’s not a guarantee of pool safety, but it means they know what they’re doing in a pool.
The number also depends on how many kids you have and how far apart activities are. I love the clubs my kids do at school because that means they just stay late. I don’t have to drive them anywhere for most clubs unless there’s a competition.
If you have to drive all over town for various activities for different kids, you will need to keep more careful control over how many activities you let the sign up for. This isn’t just about kids having fun, it’s about parents not being overwhelmed or exhausted.
But My Kids Love Their Activities!
I would certainly hope your kids love their extracurricular activities! You should sign them up for things they want to learn or do when you can, after considering the time and financial requirements.
There comes a time when parents need to tell their kids “no.” It can be about the money. It can be because you didn’t like the time it took from your day. It can be because your kids complained about not having time for friends the last time you signed them up for the activity.
If they really love the activity and it’s reasonable for your family to allow your kids to do an activity a lot, go for it. So long as you take their needs into consideration along with everyone else’s (including you!), it’s not a completely bad thing to let your kids do an activity even when it makes doing other things difficult. Just be sure everyone is on board with the sacrifice required.
Activities have value for kids. They’re fun. They learn things they want to do. If you can afford the time and money, I think signing your kids up for some activities is a very good thing. But they shouldn’t be the only thing your kids do with their spare time. Give them time to get silly on their own.
But They’ll Get Bored!
Yes. Yes, they will. That’s a good thing.
Kids should get bored sometimes. That’s how they learn to cope with boredom. If you’re too concerned about it, you can always tell them to go clean their rooms – my kids get quickly un-bored when I make that suggestion.
Remember that if your kids are used to being entertained by other activities, they won’t be able to come up with their own ideas for something to do so easily. That means when they are between activities, you are a lot more likely to get the “Mom, I’m bored!” complaint. A child who is used to playing games, being creative or even just sitting and reading doesn’t get bored quite as easily. Yes, you will still hear the classic complaint, but your child will be more ready to handle quiet times themselves.
Don’t protect them too much from failure either. Let them suffer consequences as necessary. Kids really aren’t as fragile as many parents think. My oldest daughter used to get so mad at me when I told her to do something herself when she’s insisted that she couldn’t. I’m not talking about tying her shoes… that one takes time and practice, and is often frustrating for all concerned.
I’m talking about days when she wanted me to draw a circle for her because she didn’t think she could, or rather, didn’t want to. The frustration was very good for her. How fast would she learn to draw circles if I did all of them for her? She draws quite a bit more than circles now and wants to be an animator. She still gets frustrated, but that comes more from being her own worst critic, something most of us understand.
Let your children suffer frustration, fail at tasks they are trying to learn. Let them be embarrassed sometimes. Children get over these problems more easily if they are familiar. You know that as an adult you fail sometimes, get frustrated and even get embarrassed. You learned to deal with that as a child. Do your children the same favor. Don’t make their lives too easy or overly managed.