Friday, May 30, 2008

Families in the Fast Lane by guest blogger Jennifer Kolari, MSW, RSW

The concept of over -programming our children is something many parents are concerned about. Many of us realize this loss of free time for kids results in loss of imagination and creativity. Over-structured childhoods place great demands on children and their parents--who have to plan and organize it all. Many children benefit from these programs--the structure, learning opportunities and excitement they can bring--but too many commitments can throw everyone off balance and undermine the positive things these activities can offer.

In addition to soccer practice, swimming or music lessons, tutoring and Karate, our home life can be filled with video games, iPods, Blackberrys and computers, all of which can make it even more difficult for families to stay close and connected. This added stress can raise frustration levels, causing us all to be short or impatient and further disconnected from one another.

All the stress of rushing and driving from program to program can wear on us. If it were as easy as just cutting back on these programs it would be a simple fix, but for many, this is the way life works and their kids want to be involved in these activities.

It is important to make sure that the benefits of the program outweigh the stress it puts on all of us. And that we consider the importance of relaxed family time, walks, board games and unstructured play time when planning our weeks. When we were young there were always kids out on the street ready to play kick the can or hide and seek, today most streets are empty with kids in organized programs. While I worry about the lack of free unorganized play and children needing time to chase butterflies and lie in the grass I do realize that the reality is -- there often is no one on the street to play with. Play dates are booked and carefully scheduled around lessons and activities. It will take a collective effort for all of us to see the value in play and downtime. Below are some tips to help busy families deal with this issue.

-Take a family inventory of activities; work towards balance for everyone not just the kids.

-Have your child involved in one non-negotiable activity. Other activities they can choose, try, and not necessarily stick with.

-Cut back on activites by allowing just one activity per term, and another they would really like to do later in the year.

-Build in time for unstructured play.

-Build in for transition times like leaving the house or moving from one activity to another to reduce stress.

-Schedule in time with your children, put them in your day timer, they will love seeing their names there.

-Turn computer, blackberry, cell phones off for set amounts of time.

-Try, when possible, to eat dinner together.

-Make time to be silly to ensure you are laughing and having fun.

-Sit with them for a few minutes when they are watching TV or playing a video game.

-Take your child or teen to lunch, have a set time once a month.

-Use time in the car to talk, kids often say more in the car.

-Build in time to relax, play games, go for walks, don’t just talk about it.

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