Keeping it simple in the life of overscheduling

A month into the new school year is a good time to feel settled in and back in the groove. However it can also be a time that you realized maybe, just maybe there are too many darn things to do! There’s soccer, karate, dance, gymnastics, football, music, and many other things to fill in every free moment. When does homework get done or a little family time? For those with preschoolers, maybe it is also too many playdates or storytimes. How does this happen so fast? It could be that we live in Fairfield County and sometimes we are valued by what we do or accomplish and not on our quality time. If this is sounding familiar now is the time to review the values and the lasting memories you want for your family.

It is a challenge raising responsible children versus overstressed children. It is important that children grow up to be responsible for their actions, work and behavior within reasonable limits. Think about how you grew up; what worked and what would you have changed about the choices you were given? Would you have liked to spend more time with your parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents? Would you have liked more activities? Were the activities you participated in ones that you wanted to do or your parents wanted you to do? Too many, none? How did it help your self-esteem and sense of belonging? What kind of family life do you want for your children? What combination of scheduled family time like game night, movie night, meals together? What rituals and traditions? How about out of the house activities? Does it always have to be sports or how about interests like the library, chess club or the arts? How do you balance everything and avoid running around from one thing to the next, barely able to eat dinner, going to sleep late and scarcely squeezing in homework?

Now it is time to plan. Take the time to streamline all of the activities in your family’s life and continue to check in with your children to see how stressful their schedule may be. How do you streamline all of the activities? Start with the answers to the above questions. Ask yourself and your family when they are the most happy. Then ask on a scale of 1-10 how happy each activity makes them. Are there outside expectations or pressure in doing an activity? What can wait for the summer when there is more time? Is one activity a season better? Check in with each member once a month to see how the new plan is working. Just working together to prioritize activities tells your children that you are more interested in what makes them happy rather than just “doing things”. As they review their schedule each month they will become more aware of how activities affect them. When they get older you may expand the criteria for an activity from “makes me happy” to “I enjoy being with others”, “makes me proud”, “I feel like part of a team”, “I feel healthy” or other things they value.

Remember what works for one year will need to be reevaluated the next. One child might be able to handle and thrive on many activities while another might not want more than one. Continue to discuss with your children and help them prioritize. Most importantly remember to schedule and find time for family. Family dinners are perfect for communicating about the day. Family movie nights with DVDs and popcorn go a long way as well. Remember do you want a Webster definition of family; a group of individuals living under one roof, or do you want a group of individuals who spend time together and have great memories of that time?

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and is a mother of 4 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.