Ballet, football, gymnastics, swimming, music lessons… Do you feel like you might have over scheduled kids?
Are you shuffling them around from various clubs and activities to the point you’re exhausted and not even sure if they’re enjoying it anymore?
I recently read an article in the Huffington Post by Dr. Samantha Rodman, a clinical psychologist and mother of three.
She says that while some families thrive on a lot of activities, others don’t. It’s important to pause and have a proper think about it, rather than continue on auto-pilot.
Dr. Rodman gives The EASY Method to Figure Out Which Activities To Do – and what to drop.
In a tight nutshell (using the EASY acronym):
E = Enrich
Does the activity enrich the majority of your family members lives? (I love how she points out that an activity may adversely affect siblings if they’re lugged along, or left behind. And what about the effects on you, the chauffeur?)
A = Ask
As in, ask your child whether or not they want to do the activity. Sometimes we forget to do this, or we neglect to do it because we want them to do it.
S = Skip
If your child seems anxious or stressed, try skipping an activity for a week or two to see if it makes a difference to them or your overall family atmosphere.
Y = Why
Think about why your child is participating in each activity and make sure you’re happy with the answer.
Here’s the story of what happened back when I had VERY over scheduled kids. We were constantly on the go from one thing to the next, but the crazy thing is, I didn’t even think about doing it any differently because everyone I knew was doing the same thing. We’d have a moan about it at any opportunity, but it seemed like part and parcel to having active kids.
Then (thankfully) something happened that inspired a change and got our family off of that crazy hamster wheel.
My boys were five and eight and we had a particularly laid-back summer family holiday. We’d bonded over long, lazy days on the beach and blissful freedom busy schedules and running around.
I arrived back home with a bump. It was chilly and raining, we had no food in the fridge, and on the kitchen counter I spotted the kids’ registration forms for the Autumn term’s swimming and tennis lessons which I’d neglected to send off before I left.
Arghh! If they didn’t get their usual slots it would screw up all of the rest of their extracurricular schedules.
One did karate, the other loved an after-school cooking club. They both took piano lessons and I also wanted them to try a kids Spanish language club I’d heard about.
Visualising what my afternoons were about to return to filled me with dread. Dashing out the door with tennis shoes, rackets or the swimming bags, plus snacks for them and a book for my inevitable waiting times.
I longed to be back on holiday, away from this self-inflicted madness. We’d spent a lot of our summer talking and laughing. My older son was beginning to ask me very profound questions about the meaning of life and I enjoyed exploring it with him.
Suddenly it occurred to me.
There are clubs for every sport, hobby, interest and activity – but what about one that promotes good ethics and values? A club where kids can learn about themselves and their relationship to the world around them? What if this club took place in the comfort of our home… No registration forms or fees, no fighting traffic or searching for parking. Snacks and drinks straight out of our kitchen.
I decided right there and then to create our own club, just the three of us.
We went through their choices of activities and I was surprised at the ones they wanted to keep (piano, tennis) and the ones they were happy to drop (karate, cookery).
This free’d up Tuesday afternoons to be our Special Day.
I created three themes to rotate through weekly:
- The World
For Family day, they’d make cards to send their grandmothers who lived far away. One day when dad was home sick, they made him funny cards and vouchers so they could be his slaves for the afternoon and bring him whatever he wanted in bed.
For Community day, we went to the local park and picked up litter. We baked banana bread for our elderly neighbour, or collected wood for her fire.
For World day, we sponsored a child in Ghana via ActionAid and drew her pictures and wrote letters about our life.
Some days we’d just hang out and read. We became attracted to books aimed at kids about recycling and ecology which inspired a Walk to School campaign to raise money for local wildlife preservation.
We discovered wonderful children’s books by Dr. Wayne Dyer that explored self-esteem and feelings and another called The Family Virtues Guide, which I’ll always treasure, along with A School Like Mine, showing what the lives of school children are like in other parts of the world.
Our Special Day club gave us the opportunity to bond in ways we weren’t doing with me shoving snacks at them in the car while stressing about being late.
Now that they’re teenagers, I can see the long lasting effects too. They have a deep awareness of their place in the family, community and the world. They’ve got strong ethics and values and good self-esteem.
When we moved to Madrid, the transition was seamless. They picked up the language easier than I did and made a smooth adjustment into their new school and culture. Even without the Spanish club I never did sign them up for!
They joined me at my volunteer job in a Madrid soup kitchen and when my eldest heard there was a shortage of lentils, he organised a ‘bring a bag of lentils to school’ day.
He took on extra opportunities and won the Middle School Leadership Award. The following year the school chose him to represent them in a national leadership competition. He was able to talk about the Walk to School Week, sponsoring a child in Ghana, working in a soup kitchen amongst many other things, and he won the competition, along with a $500 prize.
Both boys are members of the Model United Nations, travelling to other European cities for mock debates and my elder son dreams of working for the real United Nations one day.
I don’t think those extra karate classes they didn’t even like would have ever led to this.
I spent so much time chauffeuring my kids from one activity to the other with the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Yet now it’s clear how just one hour a week spent at home, bonding over a shared project has had the biggest impact on their lives. And mine.
I’m thrilled that Melissa Hood of The Parent Practice has included the story of our Special Day in her new book, Real Parenting for Real Kids.
I’m probably one of the least judgemental people you’ll ever meet, so if your kids are in a lot of activities and it suits them and you, then go for it! But if it’s all feeling a bit craze-balls, then give the EASY method above a whirl to assess what changes you may want to try.
In the comments below please share your thoughts. How many activities do your kids do each week? Does it feel like a good balance? What do you think about our Special Day? I’d love to hear from you.
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Mixing practicality with self-awareness, Kelly helps mothers get on top of their endless to-do’s, set goals and improve their lives one small step at a time.
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