How to avoid overscheduling your children

I was recently interviewed for a national parenting magazine about ways to avoid overscheduling your children, a sort of counterpoint to the “soccer mom” crowd, and thought it would be fun to also share the Q&A here on our blog too. Note that while this represents my – Dave’s – view, it doesn’t necessarily exactly represent Linda’s view. But I’ll let her speak for herself. 🙂
Q: Tell me about your family.
Three kids, A- (9), G- (6) and K- (2). Happy, fun, and almost completely media free, which gives us plenty of time for music, handwork, crafts, sports and games, both indoor and outdoor.
Q: How do you decide as parents what activities you let your kids participate in and what activities you’ll say no to?
We really try to minimize organized events and activities partially because we want to avoid the “soccer mom” syndrome and partially because we aren’t trying to prepare our children for college applications or their adult life, we’re trying to simply let them have a relaxed, carefree childhood. Indeed, my wife Linda and I both believe that overscheduling children is one of the ways that we as a society are robbing our children of their childhood. I am now unsurprised to meet 14 or 15yo children who have become mini-adults with their laptops, cellphones, daytimers, and tightly managed schedules. They also seem to have adult hangups and preoccupations like drugs, sex, social status, physical appearance, and so on. Not the typical teen stuff, but much more adult issues.

Q: How do you enforce this when other children are doing so much more than one?
We simply tell our kids that if they find another activity that they like *more* than the one they’re doing, we’re willing to consider having them switch from gymnastics or swimming, for example, to something else. Since we aren’t pushing them zealously to be superb at anything, we’re also fine with our children losing interest after a relatively short period of time. We just try to avoid substantial investments in gear or instruments! 🙂
How does doing only one activity at a time benefit children emotionally, physically, etc.?
I believe that calm, peaceful people are more able to think clearly and be happy than those who are busy and always on the move. As an extension of that, I believe that children who don’t have time to flop on the couch and read a favorite book for the 7th time, or don’t have time to play frisbee with a neighbor, or don’t have time to just sit and stare out the window are typically not happy, calm and peaceful children.
Note that I’m not saying our children aren’t always on the move playing, quite the opposite! But we like to ‘catch our breaths’ so it seems quite logical to conclude that children also like time to relax, process what they’re doing and learning, and generally give their brain and body a rest.
Q: Why is downtime important for children?
Downtime = time to think. If you’re always on the move, if kids never have time to NOT do something, when do they think?
Q: Why is it important for adults to let their kids have downtime i.e. how does a more relaxed schedule benefit your life?
One thing I’ve seen with children who are busy with complex schedules is that when they do have downtime, they don’t know how to fill it. If they can’t go to their riding lesson or gymnastics practice, they need some other external stimulation. Kids that know they are responsible for filling much of their time, by contrast, know how to do so and are more flexible, relaxed, and helpful.
Q: You mentioned that boredom often helps the creative juices flow. Can you tell me some specific instances you saw this at work?
Every day, actually. My 9yo daughter A- was bored this morning while we were cleaning the house and so she pulled out a piece of paper and some colored pens and wrote and illustrated a short story about a princess who finds an abandoned doll. It’s quite ingenious, cute, and a terrific way for her to have filled the time with something satisfying, rather than just fritter it away with a TV show or video game.
Q: Does this time of relaxed lifestyle mirror the way you were raised or is it a complete opposite upbringing?
It’s fairly similar to what both my wife and I experienced as children, but then again, I think that the aggressive scheduling and busy lives of kids nowadays is a relatively new phenomenon too.
Q: Finally, has the practice of only allowing one activity allowed them to become more interested in one thing or do they still “want it all” like the kids I’ve encountered?
My kids are much more patient than that. They have lots of interests, but I wouldn’t say that they “want it all” (unless we’re at an ice cream shop!)
What are your thoughts on this set of interesting questions? How busily are your children scheduled?

3 comments on “How to avoid overscheduling your children

  1. I totally agree that kids are too scheduled! I’m a big fan or imagination and creativity and without a little time kids aren’t going to develop much of these 2 important skills.
    My kids are still fairly young (5,3,1) but I enjoy a lazy afternoon of reading books or playing in cardboard boxes with them all the time. It is great for them and for me.

  2. I totally agree that Kids today are WAY to overscheduled, Why? I’m also a huge fan of imagination, creativity, rest time, etc. its huge. I also don’t push my kids to be overachievers as I want them to do only what is their BEST. I see so many kids at my daughters school that are literally ripped off the playground after school for some scheduled thing and their crying because they just want to play. Let your kids just be kids as its such a SHORT time already.

  3. Yes Nicole….. Kids today are WAY too over scheduled, I am not interested in pushing my children to be over achievers..

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