Today’s kids are busier than a CEO of a multinational company! They attend school, come home, rush to some academic or activity classes and come back late. Their lives revolve around agendas, packed schedules and time-tables.
Childhood is a time to play, dance and also get bored sometimes. Kids should go to school for few hours, come home, do a little homework and run around freely. This ideal childhood that was a norm few years ago has drastically changed over recent years.
Most parents want their kids to perform excellently in every sphere, ranging from academics, social, sports and fine arts. A typical over-scheduled kid is engaged in numerous activities apart from schooling. From tuitions in the academic subjects, the child may attend dance, art or music classes and get coaching in some sport. Life becomes a race against time.
The need to excel to be the best is a ruthless driving force that robs the joy of childhood from kids. Parents introduce them to a mad race, competing for big goals without respite.
Life is not for running but living.
This trend is more prevalent in middle and upper-middle-class families. Parents become heavily involved in their children’s lives in search of excellence in almost every field imaginable they over-schedule the kids by constantly enriching their environment. Micro-managing every detail of your child’s life and live with the constant anxiety about your child being left behind is a hyper parenting trap.
Kids and Extra-Curricular Activities
Prachi Vaish, Clinical Psychologist/Psychotherapist feels that the deciding factor for enrolling children in activities after school should be the temperament of the child. “If the child is a high-energy child, very social, and requires extra stimulation after-school hours, then engaging him in after-school activities can do a lot of good.”
Rekha Dhyani, has experienced an extremely hectic schedule during her childhood. She says, “I believe we must leave the kids to decide what activities they want to engage in.” Engaging children in many activities under the label of encouraging is not right. Her daughters have the freedom to decide what they want to do after-school hours.
According to Chandrika Krishnan, keeping children involved in many activities will not reveal the prodigy in them. If the child is truly gifted, he will show the spark.
Swapna Nair feels, enrolling kids in a plethora of activities to keep the child busy so that parents can get time for themselves a disturbing trend. Equally stressful is competing with every other kid regardless of the child’s interest, energy levels or talent.
However, some situations could be exceptions, she explains. “For working parents it may be suitable to enroll children in some activities to keep them successfully engaged.”
Deciding After-School Activities
Engaging a child according to his or her talents without tiring is the right way to decide. This again depends on the kid. There isn’t one rule that can be applied to all kids. “Some kids can happily engage in three different activities while another kid may find even one extra class more than enough,” explains Prachi.
Rekha enrolled her younger daughter for art and craft and the elder for self-defense classes but found out that they were not appreciating the pursuits, so she discontinued. At present, both are engaged in activities they enjoy, “The little one keeps herself busy with sketching, painting and writing mini-stories while the older one enjoys reading books, quilling, nail art and watching wildlife series on Animal Planet, Sony BBC, Discovery and National Geographic.”
Chandrika’s children are young adults today. They were enrolled in painting and singing classes for a short while. This was for two hours twice a week.
Swapna’s son was involved in instrumental music and swimming in summer and two hours weekly for about a year.
Many times, kids are unclear about their interests. In such situations, parents should give them freedom to try activities, explore and then choose. The child should have an active participation while deciding to participate in any activity without any pressure.
Sometimes a child appears to be highly energetic, but this could be a sign of overstimulation. As Prachi explains,
“At times hyperactivity could also be a sign of exhaustion kids who are extremely energetic and all over the place past bedtime are completely tired.”
They go into auto mode and with their fragile systems they are unable to relax and regulate themselves. In such circumstances, introducing the kid to more activities proves harmful. Parents need to help them find ways and means of relaxing.
Relinquishing Sleep, Time and Money
Busy timetables have accelerated the pace of living. Kim John Payne, author of the book, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, rightly says, “Most families have increased the speed of their lives and the number of their activities gradually–even unconsciously–over time. They realize that there are costs to a consistently fast-paced, hectic schedule, but they’ve adjusted.”
Outwardly, families seem to adjust to these frantic routines but over a period of time, the effects become apparent in the form of overwhelm, stress and disharmony within the family.
Constant running around is stressful for both kids and parents. It creates unnecessary stress leading to friction within the family. If one parent would be constantly juggling activities schedules and another work, there could be unpleasantness between spouses,
Swapna doesn’t feel its right to give up on sleep spend time and money to devote to extra-curricular activities. She feels the continuous busy schedule will impact the family life adversely as it adds constant pressure on the kid to perform because he has been enrolled. “Continuous running from one activity to another would hamper the child’s individuality. He/ she will have neither any free time nor time to play. Play is most essential, and many life skills are acquired through free play. ”
Rekha doesn’t believe in burdening kids with her own aspirations and expectations.
Chandrika feels, spending money and time for extracurricular activities judiciously when a child’s interest cannot flourish in the school environment is fine.
A continuous busy schedule is definitely stressful. It varies from child to child on how much he/she can withstand. “It is never a good idea to sacrifice a child’s sleep and rest for any activity.” Sleep is very important for the replenishment of his physical energy and is essential for proper growth,” cautions Prachi.
Rekha remembers the time when her daughters had to rush to classes after school. “There was a time when they just gobbled up a glass of milk or a banana immediately after reaching home and then rush to their respective classes.” Her daughters looked stressed and withdrawn. “That is exactly when we decided to let it go with the flow.”
Chandrika’s children completely enjoyed their childhood and skated, cycled, played and fought besides studying well.
Swapna never stressed her son, “I never compared my child with another or compared myself with other parents.”
Chandrika feels, “Healthy family atmosphere is more important than skill building.”
Common Stress Symptoms in Kids
Sometimes when the activities are not according the child’s unique potential or are too overwhelming. In such scenarios, children start showing signs of stress, explains Prachi.
Some common signs of stress in children are:
- Disturbed sleep
- Bed wetting
- Frequent crying
- Social withdrawal
- Unexplained irritability
- Anger outbursts
- Aggression with peers
- Disturbed appetite
- Digestion problems
- Unexplained aches and pains especially headaches
Child experts believe that children should not be kept constantly engaged or entertained. They should be able to do nothing at times and get bored. This space of ‘doing nothing’ enhances creative thinking, spirit of discovery and curiosity. Let children carve their own path to become happy, calmer and well balanced individuals.
Before enrolling kids in extracurricular activities
- Ensure that he/she is adequately coping with school work.
- Use imagination to keep the child engaged
- Observe your child and listen to his interests. Don’t just notice other parents or kids and what they are doing
- Select few activities based on kid’s interest and have a friendly discussion about which ones he/she would like to pursue.
- The activities should not be like another task or chore but something interesting that child looks forward to.
- Closely watch your child for any sign of distress. Kids take time to adjust. Take a judgement call if he is uncomfortable even after a month of engagement.