News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

.   Afterschool Activities - Less May Be More

   Could it possibly be the beginning of the school year? Although it can seem sad and disappointing that the slower days of summer are over, there can also be an eager anticipation of the year ahead as new classes are formed and friendships are renewed. Moreover, the beginning of the school year marks the renewal of extra-curricular activities: soccer, music lessons, religious instruction, dance classes, Scouts, gymnastics, and on and on and on. Involvement in these activities can be enriching to our children’s lives, help build skills, and create a sense of connection to people and belonging to organizations.

   However, this transition to the structure and demands of the school year can cause quite an adjustment which can be felt by everyone in the family. The change in pace alone can cause ripples of tension in the house. No longer can children take more time in the morning; no longer can days be unstructured and plans decided spontaneously. There are now increased schedules to meet, places to be, and things that have to be done. Even for children whose summer continued to be structured, school still brings with it added pressures.

   It can sometimes feel like our children’s schedules are frenetic and exhausting to them and to us. We can feel pressure to enroll them in activities not because they want to participate, but more because so many other children are so involved. Or we can be pressured by our children, against our judgement and intuition about what is right, to have them do more than feels comfortable.

   It is easy in our society to put a great deal of emphasis on the importance of children’s achievements, both in school and in extra-curricular activities. However, according to David Elkind, in his book The Hurried Child, children today are actually rushed to grow up as a result of our expectations. We sometimes expect them to acquire skills at too quick a pace and often enroll them in an overwhelming number of activities. They are often denied the opportunity to relax, play, be quiet and be unscheduled.

   While learning and building broader skills are certainly very important parts of a child’s healthy development, it can be helpful to remember that a balance of work and play or free time is essential for our children. In her book Breaking Free, Muriel James says that nurturing parents see the value of play and often enjoy playing themselves. She states that these parents “recognize play as the work of a child and that children who play are likely to be more emotionally healthy than those who don’t.” Being aware of this can take a lot of pressure off us as parents and can help to make the transition to the fall schedule less stressful for the whole family.

   Each family needs to decide for themselves the degree of structure, involvement and busyness that feels right for them. There is no one correct formula for every family and every child. Some families relish and thrive on a very active schedule, while others need more “down” time to feel comfortable and nurtured. However, there are some things you can consider to develop the balance that feels right for you:

1. Know your child and your child’s limits. Take your child’s temperament into account when deciding how many activities he/she should become involved in. Certain children can handle and cope with a very busy schedule; others need more quiet and unstructured, free time.

2. Know your family and recognize its needs. Often today, family members are so busy and rushed that there is little opportunity to connect with one another. It is important to create opportunities for family togetherness and times for pleasure and relaxation. These times can be as simple as scheduling a few nights a week when everyone eats dinner together and shares the events of their day, to actually planning a few family “dates” each month.

3. Know yourself and your own limits. If you find yourself getting resentful of your children’s busy schedules and endless carpools, step back to find a healthy balance for everyone. Remember that by taking care of yourself in this way, you will be modeling for your children how they can take care of themselves.

By: Audrey Krisbergh, Certified Parenting Educator and Director of the Parenting Center at Abington

Resources: The Hurried Child - David Elkind
Breaking Free - Muriel James
September 1999
Volume 2/ Issue 1

A publication from The Parenting Center at AbingtonP.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586


Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.


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