Making Commitments Manageable
By Leah Kackley
At the beginning of the school year, a sense of newness and renewal can occasionally contribute to an overcommitted schedule of activities. Sports, music and enrichment fun can really crowd the calendar. For some kids, being busy pushes them to be their best. Often, though, the result is more negative. Kids can begin to act out or even complain of illness when they don’t have the type of unstructured down time that they need.
Sarah Dill, EdS is a counselor at Clinton High School. Her experience with kids helps her to recognize the issues that being overextended can bring. She encourages parents to be sensitive to covert and overt signals that children send. She says, “Sometimes children complain of headaches or stomachaches. This is often stress related and can be a sign of overextension. Other clues can be a change in attitude, especially if your sweet angel is acting extra sassy or unusually short-tempered, or if your child is suddenly withdrawn or sullen”. Dill says academic changes are also a clue that something might be amiss. At that point, it’s time to make some changes to the schedule to reduce stress and pressure.
Often, however, removing activities can be harder on the parent than on the children. Dill encourages parents who want their kids to “do everything” to consider their child’s interest in the activities as well as the quality of their participation. If it’s just to hang out with friends, then maybe there are less constrictive ways to do that. She reminds parents: “Just because others are doing something, doesn’t guarantee your child will be on the same team. So it may be more appropriate to schedule a couple of play dates so your child can spend more time with his or her friends, doing a mutually enjoyable activity. Or if there is a desire to make new friends, this may be a good opportunity to be exposed to other children and their parents through a common interest”.
Childhood is a great time to explore lots of different activities, of course. And, if an honest cost benefit analysis says the activities make sense, then continue on. However, once involved in something, Dill says that a waning interest can be a teachable moment as well. She says, “Personally, I think it’s really important to teach children to honor commitments they make. So if your little LeBron James decides he no longer wants to be on the team halfway through the season, take it as an opportunity to discuss what it means to be a part of a team and how it’s fine to not play next season, but that being a part of the team means finishing out the season. It may not be easy, but it’s a great life lesson on perseverance and responsibility”.
When schedules do become less busy, don’t be afraid to enjoy the downtime. Unstructured free time can be so good for kids, from elementary through high school. Younger kids can learn about self-regulation within their peer group while playing. Older ones can learn about time management and self-care. And, if kids have unstructured time, it allows them to pursue other interests that can really enrich their educational experiences. Most kids really do like learning for the sheer joy of learning, especially when they don’t realize they’re doing it. And their imaginations are free to develop naturally.
Providing “everything” for kids can also mean providing them with some time for “nothing”. Not all kids need it, but those who do really must have it. And when their minds are allowed time to wander and think, they will find that their focus might just get more clear. Even better, they’ll learn a most valuable life lesson of how to say “no”. And that is a lesson best learned early in life.
Leah O’Gwynn Kackley lives, works and homeschools in the Rez/Fannin area with her husband Jason and their three kids. She’s very familiar with the FOMO part of scheduling. Learning to limit is something she struggles with as well!