The secret to raising happy, well-balanced kids

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There seems to a belief in the U.S. that scheduling one’s children in countless extracurricular activities helps them get ahead in life.

It may seem logical to want to expose your child to a large number of interests, just to see what “sticks” as far as attention and talent go. I remember sitting with my girls when they were toddlers wondering if I had little prodigies in the making. Prodigies of what I didn’t know, but I was curious, nonetheless. My own mother was a musical genius at a very young age, for Pete’s sake. A pie-in-the-sky dream was brewing that I had a Mozart or Monet on my hands and didn’t even know it yet!

So what did I do at this tender age of interest development to bring forth such mastery?

I scheduled my kidlets to the hilt, of course, and proceeded to drive to every mommy and me class known to man. Art, gymnastics, pee wee soccer, swimming, ballet…it was a quest to uncover The Interest with which my children were going to begin their love affair. This would be a discovery of the talent that would take them to high places through years of practice and hard work and possibly lift the burden of heavy college tuition hikes. Say, what?

Yeah…I went there too.

Who am I to dictate, dig out, discover, prophesy, or predict what my kids would glom on to in the way of activities? I’m thinking varied exposure to things is a good thing, but I’m finding out that if you really pay attention to your kid’s strengths and conversation, you will be led to where you need to take them.

When I finally realized how silly and anal I was being about searching for these destinies, I let it go. Things really started happening with my girls as they asked me for opportunities for new activities. There was basketball, soccer, piano (more us than them on this one) and one very intense year of I-love-all-things-about-horses-please-let-me-ride-every-day. I embraced the horse girl thing, knowing that at some point my youngest’s athletic skills would probably trump her stable time. I actually had a moment of sadness when she couldn’t identify a horse at a parade last summer. Memorizing horse fact books used to be the favorite past time. Yet, I also was proud of her for recognizing that a girl just can’t do it all. It’s also a good thing to see that the mother of a girl simply can’t do it all (or drive it all) either.

We’ve had many discussions about what it means for school work when there are too many scheduled activities and events packed in a week. We’ve always sent the message that academics come first and if there is “slippage” in any way, other activities will be stripped away like bark on a whittled stick. I think the message that “sometimes you just have to choose the one you like the best” is a good one.

Over-scheduled kids have a much bigger chance of becoming over-scheduled adults…and we all know how that turns out.

Aside from the harrowing school time vs. athletic time dilemma, there is another thing that has been haunting my 21st century thought process (I’m a little late to the party).

Do you think kids really play anymore?

How is your memory of your own playtime? Is it full of days spent with dolls in your bedroom, banana seat bike races, driveway matches of H.O.R.S.E. and twilight games of Capture the Flag? It seems like my memory has more vivid images of these games and hard-core playing than anything else from my childhood. It’s where I learned to entertain myself (being an only child), fight fair with friends and listen to others’ opinions of which game should be next. They were times of being completely engrossed in my backyard refrigerator box fort without a care in the world. My imagination was marathon running to the point of having to be reminded six times to “come in, it’s getting dark.”

I find it disturbing to constantly see the tops of kids’ heads in public settings. You know…the stance of being fully engaged in texting or gaming with slumped shoulders and glassy eyes. This doesn’t seem right.

Has the gravity of our situation with this tech-savvy generation freaking anyone else out?

I’m just short of not being able to sleep, it bothers me so much. Of course, not to the point of being an excellent example with the closure of my own laptop (I’m working on that), but it does make me think these kids are seriously missing out on something they might see as old-fashioned.

It appears there is a lot of running from one activity to the next with gaming and tech time smashed in between.  In my own car I finally implemented a no-device rule. We either talk or listen to horrible pop music stations (I’m held grudgingly hostage by One Direction) and the car time seems to be a time of bonding and catching up. I actually learn quite a bit in the car about what’s up at school. I think it has to do with having the back of my head to them—-they must feel safer sharing stuff when there’s no eye contact.

I do believe kids learn about their strengths through playing, or as my girls have taught me to say “hanging out”. Interacting and genuinely having to communicate with one another is invaluable to learning to navigate the world in general.  I’ve had many conversations lately with other worried parents that the art of communicating (especially in the written word) is losing steam, especially with an internet connected generation. It has to be conscious and consistent—overscheduled kids miss out on this.

Down-time (with the benefit of being device-free) is crucial to social development and the ability to identify one’s own strengths.

If we interact with our kids and listen to their hearts speak, we know our kids. We hear the changes in interests and desires. We are keen to the possible directions their interests can lead them. It is then that we can make a commitment to a desired activity and support it with everything we’ve got.

Every once in a while I have a candid one on one conversation with each of my children.

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1) Which of your activities bring you immense joy and a sense of accomplishment?

2) Which of your activities do you see yourself doing in two years?

3) If you stopped participating in ____________ activity, what would you miss about it?

This usually takes care of it. Sports tend to win in our house, but the interest and passion is genuine.

I’m going with it.

Do you find a packed kid activity schedule to be an obstacle in your home? I’m interested in how you handle it.

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4 thoughts on “The secret to raising happy, well-balanced kids

  1. So lovely to hear your thoughts and heart on raising kids…not only your own, (our girls!), but others that read and are thoughtful of the ideas you present here on the ExtraOrdinary, Simple Life.

    Lv, H.

    • You guys have really watched the process morph into something different, haven’t you!? It’s been an interesting road. I appreciate all of the love and support you and dad have given us. Love you two so much!

  2. My son is three, almost four, and hasn’t played an organized sport yet. Can you BELIEVE it? My eight year old plays baseball allthetime but other than that he hasn’t really played organized sports. I sign him up for swimming lessons because I don’t want him to drown, and he has done a couple of low-key soccer teams (no practice, just once a week games). I truly don’t believe shuttling your kids around all the time is a great way to spend time together. We prefer to go to the park and play tennis, basketball, kick a soccer ball, and climb on the monkey bars.

    • GASP! You don’t have a college sport scholarship in mind for your 3-year-old yet?! 😉 Amen to not driving all over creation, Christine! We just had to take a stand. I never really cared what the Jones’ were doing and then when I saw the chaotic lives of said Jones’, I knew we were on to something by limiting our activities. Childhood (and time with our kids) is so limited. Why spending it in the minivan horking down fast food? Thanks for your comments—it’s nice to know someone out there feels the same way I do about this topic.

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