Do you remember a time when pre-schoolers spent their days eating crayons, flushing inappropriate things down the toilet, and giving the family dog a haircut? I do because that’s not only how I spent my time before I got into school, but also how most of my elementary school days were spent – doing things that were fueled by my own curiosity, creativity, and imagination.
It saddens me that a lot of today’s youth will never be able to discover the answer to the question, “do orange crayons tastes like oranges?” because they’ll never get to spend an unscheduled or unsupervised moment alone to find out. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it kiddies, they don’t. At all.
I think kids today are spread too thin and not given enough downtime to recoup from their busy schedules – the end result being ten-year olds with Wall Street level burnout.
I don’t know when it happened, but nowadays it’s considered the norm to have your child involved in several activities at once. Some experts believe organized activities foster success in other areas of life, while others believe it is the death of imagination and creativity – I tend to side with the latter.
I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get involved in scheduled activities, but I think they should be limited to one or two things they love. I also think they should be introduced at a time in the child’s life when they show a genuine interest in the sport/club/musical instrument. It’s not the parent’s job to choose what their child’s passions are, only to encourage them when they develop naturally.
Does your three-year old have aspirations to become the next David Beckham? It’s possible, but highly improbable. Have you seen some of the pre-school children that play sports? They are too busy playing in the dirt or gazing up at the clouds to pay much attention to the ball being kicked around. So why not let them do those activities at home where there is no danger of being hit in the head with a soccer ball?
Every kid is different – some thrive on a packed schedule while others prefer more downtime. Here’s a way to tell which side of the fence your kid falls on: if they throw a temper tantrum or melt into a pile of weepy tears when it’s time to leave the house for practice, maybe it’s time to stop making them go. I promise no one will call Child Protective Services on you just because your kid doesn’t play baseball or take ballet classes.
There is a lot of pressure on parents to make sure that their kids are sociable – no one wants their kid to be a social outcast. They might end up blowing up school buildings or spearheading multi-billion dollar corporations like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates…. wait a minute that last one might actually not be so bad. I could finally cash in on the years I spent changing dirty diapers and cleaning barf off my shirt.
As adults, we know how painful it can be when you feel like you don’t fit in, and we try to protect our children from ever experiencing those feelings of rejection and loneliness. But having your child enrolled in half a dozen activities doesn’t ensure that they will never feel lonely. In fact, it may disable them from coping with feelings of occasional isolation because they aren’t used to it.
My friend was worried that her five-year old daughter wasn’t socializing properly with her classmates – her evidence being the fact that she didn’t have a best friend yet. She said that she was talking to another mother in the class and the woman was bragging about how her daughter was inseparable from her best friend and how she spent hours talking on the phone with her – this girl was four-years old at the time. FOUR. YEARS. OLD. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know how to use a telephone at that age, unless you count using the long, curly cord as a jump rope.
I just dated myself there, didn’t I? Yep, I grew up with corded telephones that were tethered to the wall – save the older-than-dirt jokes until the end, please. Back to the subject at hand….
Let’s do a little mental exercise right now to help ease my friend’s fear: think back and tell me what age you were when you had your first, real best friend. I’m not talking about the kid you were thrown together with because your mothers were friends, I mean the first best friend you made all on your own.
I’ll go first – I was in FIFTH grade (10 years old). That’s not to say I didn’t have other friends before then, just none that I felt compelled to hang out with outside the boundaries of the playground. I didn’t meet Kristen through sports, clubs, or any other kind of scheduled activity. In fact, I’m pretty sure what drew us together initially was our mutual hatred of dresses. And thirty years later, we are still close friends and I can assure you that I’m not scarred for life because I didn’t meet her right after exiting my mother’s womb.
My point to all of this is that I think a lot of parents are slamming their foot down on the accelerator of their children’s childhoods and worrying too much about their future. It’s okay that your three-year old can’t read, that your five-year old isn’t surrounded by a gaggle of giggling girlfriends, or that your seven-year old hasn’t decided whether or not they want to play sports.
Does your kid seem happy? Well-adjusted? Unlikely to commit his first felony before he’s ten-years old? Then you’re doing a pretty great job Mom and Dad. Give yourself a break….and more importantly, give your kid one too.