I Don’t See The Benefit In Overscheduling Children — Because I Was That Child Once
By Katharine Chan
Photo © KookkaiFoto/Twenty20
Jun 27, 2022
I recently registered my kids for their summer activities.
Every season, there’s always a bit of fear that brews up inside me as I debate whether it’s too much or too little for my kids to handle. This fear stems from my childhood.
When I was a kid, I had something to do every day after school and on weekends. Whether it was swimming, skating, gymnastics, piano, Girl Guides, Chinese school or basketball, I rarely had downtime.
All of that overscheduling contributed to my perfectionism, disordered eating, depression and anxiety. I was a 10-year-old overachiever who set high expectations and became self-destructive whenever I couldn’t meet them.
"I don’t want their lives to be scheduled every minute of every single day, dashing from school to lessons to practice to homework to sleep."
Through my ongoing recovery, I vowed to prioritize the health and happiness of my kids.
I don’t want their lives to be scheduled every minute of every single day, dashing from school to lessons to practice to homework to sleep.
At the same time, I want them to be exposed to a variety of activities. I want them to discover their passions and talent; to set goals and achieve them. Or at least develop the grit to overcome challenges.
Here is how I’m creating a realistic balance between scheduled and unscheduled times for my kids.
Don’t let the calendar run my life
First, it’s about leading by example.
I think the most counterproductive thing a parent can do is to tell their kids one thing and do the opposite. Kids are like sponges. How they behave is heavily influenced by those around them.
If my kids see me constantly jumping from one activity to another, they will be conditioned to believe life is about ticking boxes and filling schedules to the brim. For them to understand work-life balance, I must show that I can manage that for myself.
How I manage my time is how they’re going to manage theirs. If I let the calendar take over my life, it’s going to take over their lives too.
Set a limit
Our kids are enrolled in, at most, two to three activities during the week. And one of these is swimming. Swimming lessons are non-negotiable because it’s a life skill. Until they can swim confidently on their own, it stays on the docket.
For the other activities, the focus is on trying new things, testing their natural abilities and seeing if they like them. They’ve tried dance and skating. Eventually, I’ll enroll them in soccer, gymnastics, karate and anything that piques their interest.
Another limit we set is that there isn’t an activity every day. It’s not just for the kids, but our own sanity. I can’t imagine having to do all those drop-offs and pickups. My schedule needs downtime too.
Prioritize family time
My husband and I are both self-employed so we have the flexibility to schedule activities shortly after 3 p.m.. We make sure our family sits together for dinner most nights.
We also schedule their activities on weekdays so that when the weekend comes, it’s all about family time. It gives them two full days to let their minds wander, with plenty of opportunities for unstructured playtime. They get to live in the moment and connect with us and each other.
We go for walks to the park and the playground. We play board games, do puzzles and play catch. We’ll head over to my parents' home, have friends over or meet up with other family members.
I actually love it when my kids whine about being bored. Instead of scrambling to find ways to entertain them or get annoyed, I offer them space to get creative, test their resourcefulness and come up with their own solutions.
There was one time when my daughter complained about being bored. I told her I’d think of something after I finished cooking dinner. Ten minutes later, I found her in her room quietly designing a board game complete with action cards, paper dice and pawns.
I also try to pay attention to what they’re good at and what they enjoy.
As a kid, I loved writing. In Grade 1, I wrote an entire book series about a girl named Leona who dared to challenge the rules. I kept a diary, wrote poems, short stories, a movie script and random ideas that popped into my head. But my parents never enrolled me in a single writing class.
I passed every swimming level with flying colours and won numerous awards at piano competitions. I did well in my extracurriculars but my interest in them always paled in comparison to my love of writing. And because of that, writing became the hobby that was hidden behind all the accolades.
"There is a difference between what someone is good at and what they enjoy doing."
At school, teachers commended my essays, and at work colleagues admired how articulate and eloquent my reports were. However, it would be decades before I rediscovered my passion and turned it into a career.
With my kids, I’m paying close attention to their strengths and what lights up their eyes. There is a difference between what someone is good at and what they enjoy doing.
For instance, a child may be incredibly talented at golf but dreads every lesson. Or a child may love to sing but can't harmonize or be in key.
Ultimately, my mission as a parent is to help guide my kids into finding activities that fulfill both these criteria so they commit to learning, master the skills and, most importantly, find joy in the process.
Reflecting back, I might just enroll my daughter in a game design course.
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