Children playing basketball against the backdrop of an overcast sky. (Bharat Bhushan/HT photo)
Enthusiastic and encouraging parents that we are, we enrol our children in hobbyclasses the instant they show an aptitude in a field. Or sometimes we enrol them hoping they'll show some aptitude. Since most of these classes are held after school, it is a race against the clock the minute the kids get back home. Rush from one class to another and then rush back home in time to rush forthe dinner-homework-bedtime routine.Sounds familiar?
Research has shown that children benefit from participation in after-school activities in many ways. They boost a child's self-esteem, train them to be team players, improve performance in school, help them make new friends and teach them to accept successes and disappointments. And there's more, extracurricular activities keep kids, especially the older ones, from falling into a lethargic rut of wasting time watching TV, or playing video games and munching empty calories.
But surely, there is a limit to everything, even if it is good. Extracurricular activities are great as long as they are not overdone to the point where both parents and children begin to treat it as a pain instead of personal gain. Our children need an enriching, learning experience, and not an exhausting one. Here are some simple steps to set the pace for your children's activities and avoid burnout. Since you're the key driver here (pun fully intended), make sure the schedule works for you too.
Focus on the priorities: Kids will want to do everything - what interests them, what their friends are doing and whatever seems cool to do! Work out a list of interests along with your child and prioritize activities that best reflect his passions or talents. Sometimes, it may even work well to get involved in one activity per season, i.e. football in the winter and swimming in summer. Answer these 4 questions to decide whether to sign up for an activity - or not!
a. Is it a meaningful activity that will help your child in any way - now or in the long run?
b. Does your child show some interest in it?
c. Do you and your child have the time and resources to participate in the activity?
d. Is the time and location suitable with your current schedule?
Go slow & steady with new activities: It's great that your daughter has expressed an interest in learning to play the guitar. But take it slow, don't jump the gun and get the best guitar money can buy and enrol her with that famous multi-award winning musician. Remember children have short attention spans and can quite easily get bored with one activity and want to try out another. Start with less intimidating neighbourhood classes and once you find your child connecting with something she loves, you can register with a professional school and invest in better equipment.
Reduce travel time: Choosing classes with centres close to home saves time. Get to know other children going the same way and suggest carpooling with their parents. Explore the area around the centre and if suitable, plan your routine rounds of household shopping between pick-ups and drops.
Get time-efficient: That seemingly boring presentation on Time-Management at your company's last offsite jaunt is sure to come in handy when you have children in multiple activities or multiple children in activities. Use a calendar, organiser or some form of tracking methods to keep track of what your child(ren) are doing, when and how they are going to get there. This will help tremendously in planning your transport requirements, whether you can squeeze in errands between pick-ups and drops and how much help you need.
Take a break: Pick one day of the week when everyone is free and stick to it fiercely. This allows for time to rest and for all to enjoy that much-talked-about 'quality family time'. Yes, it might be a tough goal to achieve, but when mastered, it does help keep burnout at bay.
Check if the child is interested: A common mistake we all make is signing up our child for something WE always wanted to do! By all means, make suggestions and give options, but let kids choose their own interests. What could be worse than balancing a tight schedule of classes when your child has no interest in them?
Be alert for signs of boredom and stress: Keep asking your kids about how they are enjoying their classes from time to time, as casually as possible. Look out for signs of boredom and stress and if present, find out why. Check with the instructor about your child's progress and enthusiasm to gauge her interest level. A word of caution here - while they should pursue their interests, children should not develop a casual join-now-quit-anytime attitude either. If they start an activity they must see it through, at least to the end of the month or session.
Taper down with time: As kids grow older, pressures of academia set in. Homework becomes a daily requirement. And a full night's sleep a necessity. If you find it difficult to manage all that your child loved doing a few years ago, discuss the situation with her and cut down. By now you would also know the child's skill sets and it will be easy to prioritise and restrict classes accordingly, allowing adequate time for school work.
Just as adults cannot do it all, nor can kids. Let kids be kids, and let the extracurricular activities just come by choice.