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Back To School Balance

As the early days of August pass us by, the back to school shuffle is in full swing. TV and store ads are reminding us that it’s time to prepare, friends are starting to plan and discuss their fall plans, and admittedly, I’m tensing up about the shift to a more regimented routine come September.

I have blogged before about trying to keep a steady peace while limiting your commitments. While I feel strongly about the power of keeping things simple, and admire Simplicity Parenting’s podcast, it is not always the way our lives pan out.

There is power in maintaining simplicity and being able to set boundaries by saying “no”, but sometimes things are unavoidable. Demands are greater than ever to supply your family with the “best” of everything. More often than not, two parents have to work. You may find your child is interested in multiple activities at one time. These are all commitments we either want to or have to take on. It’s important to remember that there is a symbiotic balance between what we have to do, and what we want to do. The power of saying “no” is sometimes the ultimate action that helps relieve the pressure of a full schedule.

The breaking point is different for everyone, but when preparing your schedule for the fall (before you have to sign up for activities) ask yourself this:

  • “What is necessary?”
  • “What needs to happen?”
  • “What can I say “no” to?”

Try to schedule a few blocks of time each day, or each week, to take care of your needs as a parent. Only after aligning your needs should you then add in the other tasks that will fill up your schedule. Think of this as a “need vs. want” planning method.

As the new school year approaches, help your children set and manage boundaries as well. Maybe they want to do five different activities, but what does that look like for them? Can they really give their “all” or feel passionate about all these activities? Helping children focus on one or two passions at a time will help them learn time management, as well as prioritize. It is not possible to do everything at once, and if they try to, it will ultimately weigh them down and feel pulled in different directions.

It is so important to be mindful as to why we sign our children up for activities. There is a huge competitive nature in our area, with pressure on academic success and as well as sports. Everyone wants to be the best. I recently read a post about someone who is raising their children “like it was the 90’s”. That wasn’t that long ago – right?

When I look back, I remember playing sports as a child, but I don’t remember taking a language, playing three sports at one time or having five activities a day.  We feel the pressure to do everything we can for our children to be successful, but what is success? What do we want to teach them? What are the skills that helped us in our growth?

In our family, I feel like my son is much more regulated when we are home. He is able to play outside, play with his toys and learn at his own pace. After a full day at school or camp, this is what his mind is craving and I need to be aware of that for him.  Not all children are the same, some are able to go with the flow and attend multiple activities, but some aren’t.

I recently met with a 5thgrader who has anxiety and behavior difficulties. He was practically crying in my office that he has “no time.” He feels like he has too many “commitments” and he wants to “relax.”  We discussed what this meant and he said that he never has a day to himself, to sit in his room and take care of his toys or his books. His mother said he asked to sign up for these activities himself, but he is a 10-year-old boy; he did not realize what that looked like, and now he is overwhelmed and tired.

To be clear, I am not advocating for no activates either, just the balance that exists between too little and too much. Time management is a vital skill to learn in today’s world. Children need to practice their executive functioning skills and make choices, organizing their own time. But they also need to play, they need time to be outside, to ground them and to learn through hands-on play. When they are constantly being occupied, they lose the ability to do this, and while we may think we are helping our children, we are hurting them. Their brains are not learning to manage time, to manage boredom and connect with nature.

So, find the balance, write out the priorities, talk with your kids about finding one or two hobbies to commit to at a time this fall. Not only will you thank yourself, your kids may even thank you as well.