It doesn’t take long after a new school year begins for our family to realize we need to dial back our activities. With the start of a new grade comes the introduction of new opportunities and an abundance of activities that fight for our children’s attention. While many, if not all, provide great avenues for our kids to discover and develop their talents and interests, our family has come to the conclusion that less can often be more.
It’s easy to fall into the temptation of signing our children up for every possible activity, but is it really the best? Certainly, as parents we hold a part of the responsibility in helping to develop our children’s character and gift sets with the goal to help them maximize their unique potential. However, does this mean we need to present all options to them at the same time?
From our personal experience, we have found that it is not beneficial to throw a slew of options at our children.
However, it can feel so counter-cultural as we observe many families around us taking their kids from one activity to another, covering the bases widely from ukulele, to knitting, to football. From a distance, it can look so easy and seamless, but from what we discovered in our short season of giving it a shot, not only did our small children not have the physical and emotional stamina to keep up with the accumulative demands, neither did we as parents. We soon found ourselves in the midst of activity overkill, going in all sorts of directions in a perpetual hurry and almost always ill prepared. My husband and I felt like incessant transportation attendants, always on the move to the next activity only upon arrival to have to abruptly sit and wait for an hour until pickup. Our lives were being run by our kids’ schedules.
Not only were we feeling stretched thin, but we began to notice the same in our kids.
Stress, fatigue, and irritability set in as well as family disconnectedness. It didn’t take us long to recognize that this type of overwhelming engagement was not sustainable for us as individuals or a family. So, we pulled the plug, deciding instead to encourage our children’s focus to one extracurricular activity at a time. You would think that our children would have protested, but they didn’t. Actually, they seemed to show signs of relief, with frequent tantrums on the way or during activities significantly improving into attitudes of cooperation and eagerness.
Part of leading a family is the desired objective to set everyone up for success. But often, we as parents can overdo the effort out of fear and worry that we will miss this small window of chance to develop our children. Who isn’t already looking for ways to develop those college scholarship opportunities when the kids hit preschool? However, I have come to the personal conclusion that I do not want to spend a significant amount of my children’s precious younger years in the car being shuttled from one activity to the next, sacrificing the peace and centeredness that often comes in the form of unrushed family dinners and leisurely quality time together. By intentionally doing less and selecting activity involvement more wisely for our kids, we are not missing the window of opportunity, rather, we are adding to their greater character and gift set that is displayed within their secure identities, positive self-esteem, and the abilities to commit, prepare, and remain focused.
Being so selective does not mean that we forego the chance to introduce our children to a variety of activities.
We just spread these out over time instead of forcing our children to pursue all simultaneously. If we discover that an activity tried for a season doesn’t seem to be a good fit for our child after all, once the season is over or we have the chance to exit without damage to our commitment, we explore another interest. The strategy we have now, while the children are young and still discovering their interests, has been to explore sports in the warmer months, while reserving music, art, and other indoor activities during the winter months. This gives a much more even-paced and manageable activity schedule.
My job as a parent is to develop my children thoughtfully, not entertain or busy them. When talents are truly in a person’s wiring, they will come out shining with little question. If we, as parents, take the time to become better attuned to our kids’ inclinations before signing them up for a tiring smorgasbord of activities, we can better assess the opportunities that naturally coincide instead of trying to use the activities as a means for discovering them.
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