Last night was crazy. My sons had track camp, followed immediately by Band Open House (we ate peanut butter sandwiches in the car) We got home for the first time after school at 7:30 pm. Then we had homework and showers and arggghhhh. I found myself yelling, “Hurry up! Hurry up!” the bulk of the time we were home. We were totally out of sync as a family. I just hate BUSY.
For many people this is NORMAL. Every night is filled with an activity or two or three. Bedtimes are late, homework is rushed, dinner is grabbed from a drive-thru. Certainly every family is different, but for our family, I try to avoid nights like this at all cost. Having a crazy night like this every now and then just shows us how much they are not okay for our family.
How do I make sure we avoid this? I schedule time for NOTHING.
Schedule in “Nothing”
Before we sign up for too many things I make sure I schedule in at least two nights a week where we have NOTHING planned. Sure, I want my kids to be involved in activities, but we limit their choices to one or two a season. My kids need to have long stretches of time to be outside, draw, read, and create. We can follow our own beat, visit parks, nature centers, ride bikes, or just do nothing. We come home from school, leisurely do homework and spend time together as a family.
The Dangers of Over-scheduled Families
Not only is being too busy a great way to frazzle your nerves, and increase your stress,but I see a big danger in it for children, too. When kids go from one activity to the next they live in a world where they are told what to do all day long. They become complacent and uninterested in most everything. Their creativity is stifled because they have little or no time to explore and think for themselves.
In a study by Dr. Caroline Martinez, a developmental pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, over-scheduled kids were found to have lessened executive function skills. These are the planning, problem solving , thought regulating, and decision making skills that are vital to success in school and life. The antidote? More free time and fewer structured activities and classes.
I don’t need a study to tell me that too many activities is not beneficial. But it is interesting to me that this phenomenon is being studied! Over-scheduling kids truly is a trend of our time and one that we are not going to follow.
Making changes for your family
If your family is feeling the effects of being too busy, try letting go of some of your commitments. Let your kids choose the one to two activities they will keep in the schedule the next time around. See how they like having time to just play at home or in the backyard. Most likely they will breathe a sigh of relief with you. I know when we are getting too busy when my kids beg for a “Stay Home Day”. Leaving them to their own devices will allow them to make the most amazing discoveries.
Giving your kids the opportunity for free play and the chance to be bored is such a huge gift. From boredom springs creativity and the chance to make lots of decisions and plans for themselves. Everyone in the family will benefit. I am pretty sure they will not miss the endless soccer games or the shuttling around in the car. They will remember the simpler times spent at home or in nature with you.
These are the times that you will treasure as well.