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Overscheduled family — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I think we’re in over our heads. My ex and I share twins between our separate homes. The girls both wanted to do Girl Scouts and two sports each, so along with getting ready for first grade, we’ve been getting set up with all these after school activities. Already I’m seeing the stress of rushing through dinner — or nibbling in the car — to squeeze in four nights of homework around these activities each week. As do many families in our situation, we have extra commute times between homes several times each week. Last year, I confess, we skimped on or skipped over some of the kindergarten homework. There is a family event for the entire school coming up (on a school night!) which I am ready to miss because, frankly any social benefit can be made up in other ways. I feel that my parenting time is always rushed. We may soon decide that one of our weekly commitments can be dropped. Swimming would be my choice, since that is something we can do just me and the girls whenever we have time, and a new class, if they really need lessons, starts every month or so.
Do you agree that less is more?

Dad Running In All Directions

Don’t miss last week’s column What’s in a name


First grade is an important academic year because this is when good homework habits should be firmly established, and learning difficulties are easier to spot than when the child was younger. This is also an age when learning problems are more receptive to individually tailored help than waiting until the child is older. Getting off to the best possible start with school should take priority over padding a resume with outside activities, or filling up a week so that parents spend less time parenting. Children need good parenting more than they need to know how to swim. Rushing through meals, homework and committed activities is not the way.

My recommendation is one extracurricular activity during the school year, with exceptions made in special circumstances. Such circumstances might include a child for whom school comes easily who needs more challenges in his or her week, a child who has a special talent which requires an early commitment for lifelong rewards (music for example), or a child who needs extra help with social skills, motor skills, or other non-academic development. If a child is struggling to master school itself, outside classes or tutoring should be considered. The point is to have a family schedule that is meeting its members’ needs.

Looking at your family, consider whether the girls’ needs are being met in each of these crucial areas:

  • Physical needs –time each day to run, dance, ride bikes, skate, swim, hike or whatever builds confidence through control of her own growing body, as well as adequate time for sleep.
  • Intellectual needs – support for success in school (a parent should be readily available during first grade homework) as well as activities to support her curiosity about self-selected subject matter.
  • Emotional needs – time to wind down and be introspective and access to an attentive parent for sharing her thoughts and feelings each day.
  • Social needs – a steady playmate or two with whom she can share confidences, be silly, test each other’s mettle, and develop longstanding relationships.

Looking at your use of time, consider whether you can do your best parenting around the children’s schedule of activities:
Physical needs – ample time for managing nutritious family meals and snacks (fast paced family life risks too much “fast” food), as well as enough sleep for carrying out the demands of your day.

  • Intellectual needs – opportunities to share your interests and life experiences to help each child see you as a resource for homework challenges as well as general life skills and non-academic pursuits.
  • Emotional needs – being available to recognize when a child needs to slow down, be encouraged, or be helped to make a change to make her life better.
  • Social – have regular contact with the parents of each girl’s friends through volunteering at school, in scouts, through organized sports, or entirely on your own through sharing time with a close network of families.

Try to assess the current family schedule with your ex from the perspective of meeting the girls’ needs. More time for good parenting (by you, not the swim teacher) will have more lasting value than time spent running from activity to activity.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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