The common idea of childhood in which our kids play all day, do some homework, and pretty much have no worries in the world seems to be completely different from the reality. Nowadays, kids are usually enrolled in so many extracurricular activities, playing with their friends has become a special occasion rather than an everyday activity. Their parents, on the other hand, are too often concerned about how much their kids know and do to even think about how their kids actually feel. So, are we overwhelming them, or have we simply started preparing them for the future a bit earlier?
Who are they doing it for?
Parents usually think that filling their kids’ schedules with a lot of activities will give them something wonderful to look back to once they grow up. However, the truth is that the only thing their kids will remember is how exhausted they were switching from one activity to another with no free time in between. The fact is that no kid wants to be overbooked so much they can’t have any “nothing” time. Also, they might not even be interested in all of the activities they are doing, but most of them will do their best either way just to please their parents. They look up to us and they are still kids after all ‒ they will do what we tell them to, even if that’s the last thing they really want. Which is why we need to ask ourselves, do we really know what’s best for them, or are we simply making them fulfill our own fantasies?
There is also the factor of social pressure ‒ if every kid on the block is going to four or five different activities, you might think that your child should do the same, but again, this is more about you succumbing to the social pressure than about engaging your child.
Is it the way to success?
We’ve all seen those young kids online who know how to play the piano perfectly or paint like Picasso, or something similar. It has probably made many of us wonder what it takes to raise such a child, a seemingly “perfect” one. That kind of thinking can make parents behave as if they are in a sort of a race ‒ a race to see who can teach their kids more things and at the earliest age. They think that sort of “enrichment” can give their kids an edge over other kids and make their success pretty much guaranteed. However, this idea of success has turned such parents from guides into talent agents, constantly looking for some activity in which their child can stand out.
It also makes parenting appear like a simple process ‒ sign your kid up for as many activities as you can and spend all your time being their chauffeur. However, the pressure it puts on the kids and what they may miss out on in other aspects of development is often neglected. Now, this doesn’t mean your child shouldn’t have any extracurricular activities ‒ balance is the key, you just need to find it before your child starts suffering the consequences.
What can you do?
Some children cannot handle so many responsibilities and will eventually end up developing stress disorders. To prevent this from happening, as soon as you notice that your child is becoming exhausted, distracted, or frustrated, try to limit the amount of time spent on the extracurricular activities. If you’re having trouble with this, don’t hesitate to get professional help. Even if you don’t have the time for counseling, there is always an option as online therapy. Whatever you decide to do, never ignore the signs that something is wrong ‒ your child’s well-being should be your priority.
What are we sacrificing?
Another reason why exposing our kids to extracurricular activities too early is not a good idea is simply because of all the things they’ll be missing out on. Being too occupied with organized activities makes them unable to explore their own interest and figure out what they truly want to do. Moreover, if we keep driving our kids from one activity to another, how can we find the time to bond?
In short, by overcrowding their schedule, we are not letting them have any time for themselves to develop their own interests and think about what they would actually like to do. Plus, we all know how much harder it is to do something without any intrinsic motivation, which most kids don’t have when they are told to do something.
There is nothing wrong with extracurricular activities, but what kids need most are meaningful relationships. Seeking perfection and pushing your kid too far just because “everybody else is doing the same” is not going to benefit either of you. Be mindful of their desires, and try to find a balance between free time and organized activities ‒ your child will be much happier and healthier.