5 Strategies to Help Kids Maintain Balance

Our kids are getting overloaded with academics and extra curricular activities, so when are they supposed to have fun?

The push to get into a good school has started earlier and earlier, with seventh and eighth graders taking yearbook and leadership and global society and a third language just to stay competitive.

One piano teacher in Palo Alto said that when he asked his sixth grade student if he had practiced that week, the student said, “When would I have the time? I’m studying every minute I am awake.”

In fact, CNN put out a report last year that indicates kids in the U.S. are receiving as much as three times more homework than is recommended by the National Education Association, even as early as the first grade! 1

The heavy emphasis on stringent academics being introduced at progressively younger ages is also counterintuitive when you take a moment to examine the latest research on how kids learn. The connection between fun, enjoyment, curiosity, and skills acquisition is pretty clear. Children, and in fact adults, learn and accelerate when we are intrigued and engaged2.

It makes little sense that school consists almost entirely of sitting at a desk listening to the teacher talk when there are so many fun, hands-on methods to support academics.

Even more interesting is that types of study complement each other. It’s not surprising that engineering students blow off steam but playing the cello, or that biologists really love chess. These activities draw on different neurological processes that strengthen the communication between different parts of the brain3.

It’s worth unpacking our cultural tropes that demand so much of our children and dismiss the activities that give our lives meaning as “leisure time.” As adults, we take less vacation, and work longer hours than other cultures4. We put our jobs above our health and shelve our creative projects, all in the interests of taking care of business.

So how do we as parents reintroduce joy so that our kids have a well-rounded, happy sense of self? Here are a few ideas around life balance for kids.

  • Revise your parenting expectations. We need to take a big step back from the sometimes-myopic process of educating a child. The “American Dream” about hard work and monetary success has really done a number on parents in some respects. We push our kids hard, often even choosing their areas of study and career for them. It can be useful to reexamine our expectations about our kids and foster a more open-minded approach to their learning and achievement.
  • You don’t get to choose your kid’s talent. It’s one of those things about parenting: our children constantly surprise us with their aptitudes. You might think you have a brain surgeon on your hands, but be open to the possibility that you may have produced a ukulele aficionado. All we can do is facilitate their improvement and be proud of them for knowing who they are.
  • Joy maintenance. Our young children will have their whole lives to deal with responsibility. While they are still innocent and full of energy, our primary role is to keep them healthy and help them fall in love with the world. Exposure to a diverse palette of pursuits and interests will keep their options open. Creative play is the brain’s primary developmental vehicle; so let them paint, put on plays, dance, make up silly songs, and run around barefoot.
  • Eliminate the punishment/reward dichotomy of non-academic pursuits. This is a scary proposition for many parents, but let’s unpack the notion that doing well in school equals the reward of sports, band practice, model plane construction, or jewelry making. When we say to our kids, “If you do your chemistry homework then you can play guitar,” we set up a dualism where one activity is mandatory (undesirable) and the other is fun (desirable). Instead, we can schedule band practice into the weekly routine without creating an activity hierarchy.
  • Family Time. This seems like a given, but for many American families, it consists of watching TV and being in the car. Some kids don’t even know what their parents do for a living! Spending regular time together to talk, laugh, share, and learn is our basic birthright as humans. Losing sight of that is a detriment to both kids and parents. If you are one of those parents who work way too hard and find yourself missing your family too much, stop and think about this: people rarely get to the end of their lives and think: I should have worked harder. More often, they think: I should have spent more time with my family.

Of course we want our kids to work hard, but we want their efforts to fit into their big picture of happiness. Parents should look for ways to enhance academic pursuits and open up opportunities to ensure that school doesn’t suck the joy out of learning.

 

 

 

 

References:

  1. http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/12/health/homework-elementary-school-study/
  2. http://www.ed.gov.nl.ca/edu/earlychildhood/power.html
  3. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2007/07/music-moves-brain-to-pay-attention-stanford-study-finds.html
  4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2730947/Americans-paid-vacation-time-world-countries-enjoy-FORTY-days-year.html

 

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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