It’s nearly 3 pm and, at schools around the country, parents stand outside classrooms in small groups, chatting as they wait for their children to come out of class. I am one of the waiting parents.
I have noticed that there’s one topic of conversation that comes up repeatedly – our children’s after-school schedules.
We list swimming lessons, rugby practices, art classes, play dates … and commiserate with one another over how busy our children are. The effort it is to get them where they have to go on time, making sure homework gets done and there’s a decent dinner on the table each night.
Many parents and children alike, seem to spend their afternoons rushing around, and by the end of the week, everyone’s ragged.
The variety of after-school activities available for our children is great. Nevertheless, I believe our children need us to pace them, like a pacer might for a marathon runner.
If we set up a lifestyle of constant doing and achieving for our kids, they will come to believe that they must always be ‘productive’ in some way.
They will reach adulthood and overstretch themselves and not really enjoy any of what they do, because they’re too tired trying to keep up with the lifestyle and expectations created for them.
Perhaps you can even relate to that feeling yourself?
Over-scheduling is symptomatic of modern-day attitudes.
A day crowded with activities, expectations and material things doesn’t allow our children time to know who they truly are.
Because knowing our value without our schedules, our achievements and our material things, is our source of peace.
What we can do to manage the pressure on our children
I hear reports that rates of anxiety, depression and self-harm among our teenagers are rising and showing up earlier, in children below 10 years of age. This weighs heavily on my heart.
We used to think of teenagers as being vibrant, optimistic, carefree young people. Instead, they are crumbling because society has created for them a lifestyle that feels impossible for them to keep up with.
We are all responsible.
I’m sure there are things parents can do, while our children are young, to nurture a lifestyle that enables them to withstand the inevitable pressure.
Here are some things I try to do for my boys:
- Pace their activities – I leave time in our schedule for doing nothing in particular. Every child will have a different appetite for stimulation and activity and we need to be tuned in enough to find the right balance for them.
- Encourage them to do things simply for the fun of it, without evaluating or measuring their achievement.
- Introduce them to meditative and mindful activities, which help them to relax and be themselves.
- Have conversations that help them to know and express themselves; e.g. to explore and share what they really think and feel about things so they can make good decisions for themselves, based on what they think, not what others think.
- Provide an example – show my boys an example of how to live a well-paced life, in which I put my sense of who I am at the centre of my life rather than other people’s expectations. (This is the most difficult one for me).
When it comes to our kids, reaching for goals needs to be tempered with stepping back to get perspective and to rest.
Being over-scheduled during the primary school years is a step onto the treadmill of always doing and never being. Being themselves.
Wouldn’t we rather our children be happily themselves than unhappily keeping up?
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