Does scaling back on activities put your kids at a disadvantage?

Trying to do the best that we can for our children while simultaneously juggling the demands of work and the rest of our lives has always been a challenge. It is possible to overstimulate both our children and ourselves with too many activities and demands on our time. Such overstimulation creates stress and can lead to more problems for us down the road.

We are the parents of two children and we are trying to do the best that we can. We both work and in the past we have tried to get the kids into as many activities as we can. We had always believed that it is important for the kids to be exposed to different activities and to be involved with groups of other children. This is what we saw our friends and neighbours doing and this is what we thought we were supposed to do. Yet as the demands on all of us increased, we noticed our patience with the children decreasing. We were all yelling a lot, constantly tired and fighting between ourselves. Since we noticed this, we have tried to cut back on activities and extra activities. It has not been easy and we have not only felt guilty about doing it but we feel like we are constantly being questioned and criticized by other parents for our choices to scale things back.

On the flip side, we are not as stressed and things at home are improving. We worry though that our children are missing out and are somehow falling behind. Are we putting our kids at a disadvantage, or is our worry unjustified? How do we respond to our family and friends when they question the changes we are making?

Trying to do the best that we can for our children while simultaneously juggling the demands of work and the rest of our lives has always been a challenge.

Today this is increasingly difficult as parents are bombarded with messages from media, family and friends about what our children need in order to succeed in today’s world.

Many of the marketing messages aimed at parents today focus on this and are regularly suggesting that their product is just what your child requires to get ahead in the world. Newscasts and popular talk shows regularly discuss one study or another that also feed into these trends.

The side effect of all of this is that parents are increasingly worried that they have to keep up and provide many of these things for their children in order for them to succeed. The guilt and pressure on parents today is as great as it has ever been.

The challenge is sorting through all of these messages in order to decide on what is right for your family and your situation. There are as many ways to raise children as there are children and, while there are practices that I would discourage, there is no one way that has a lock on what is optimal. That is something that each one of us as parents needs to decide.

It sounds as if you are doing just that. The increased intolerance, frustration, yelling, fatigue and conflict that you experienced are all signs that your family was overwhelmed and needed to scale back.

The fact that you are less stressed and that you feel that things are improving at home are signs that you are on the right track.

It is possible to overstimulate both our children and ourselves with too many activities and demands on our time. Such overstimulation creates stress and can lead to more problems for us down the road.

Reducing that stress is always a good thing regardless of what others think and we all have to find the balance that works best for ourselves and our families.

Author Kim John Payne says that childhood development is not a race to be won. His argument is that development is not something that needs to be hurried and enhanced.

He argues that children need time—in spite of their protests to the contrary—to be bored. It is during those times that children venture out, explore and engage with their worlds.

Children learn how to create, interact, problem solve, and occupy themselves by working through things. Sometimes the level of activity and demands that are placed on children from an early age takes away from other opportunities for them to simply engage with their world in the ways that help them develop their own sense of confidence and mastery in the world.

So in response to your questions, you are not harming your children by scaling things back. You are likely doing both them and yourselves a favour.

The fact that everyone seems happier and that there is less conflict is a great barometer for your family. Dealing with family and friends is a bit trickier.

They probably do not intend for their questions to be critical or judgmental of your choices although it may sometimes feel that way. They are likely just interested in why you are making these changes and how you came to your decisions.

They may be feeling some of the same things as you but have not yet gotten to the place of making changes as you have. Either way, explain to them why you are doing what you are doing and let them know that everyone is happier as a result.

Let them know if you are feeling criticized by them and have a conversation about how you might be able to talk about these things differently together so that such feelings do not arise. Most of them will be happy to work with you and will not want you to feel attacked.

If you would like to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at askpacific@shaw.ca; or fax the Record at 250-338-5568 or write to them c/o the Record. Consult a Counsellor is provided by the registered clinical counsellors at Pacific Therapy & Consulting: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies, Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Karen Turner. It appears every second Friday.

 

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