(Take the “Is Your Child Overscheduled?” quiz here: http://www.familiesfirstcoaching.com/pdf/IsYourChildOverscheduledAssessm...

Are you busy scheduling summer camps and activities for your child? There are a plethora of great options to choose from. A word of caution, however. Make sure that you’re “scheduling” free time, too.
While it seems like an oxymoron to schedule free time, some parents have forgotten the value of good old-fashioned fun when kids can choose what they want to do, relax and use their imaginations.

A comprehensive report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that it is “imperative” that children have playtime and downtime and that some well-meaning parents are over scheduling their children, to the child’s detriment. Play is so important to each child’s development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized it as a right of every child.
Play is important for many reasons. It helps stimulate brain development and creativity along with physical, cognitive and emotional strength. It develops new competencies such as decision-making and conflict resolution. The report states that play and free time is critical for children of all ages and is “essential to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well being of children and youth to create the optimal development milieu to prepare our children to be academically, socially, and emotionally equipped to lead us into the future.”

The type of play that the AAP report talks about is two-fold. Unstructured play, without electronic gadgets, with tools that stimulate a child’s imagination and get the child off the couch, is one.

The other type of play is with you, the parent. Let the child pick the direction of the play and then enter the play yourself. The report states these two types of play are “tried and trusted” methods of promoting success and happiness in children. “Just talking, preparing meals together and working on a hobby or art project, playing sports together or being fully immersed in child-centered play” will build resiliency, confidence and character traits like “honesty, decency, tenacity and compassion.”

The report emphasizes striving for a balance of academic, extracurricular and unscheduled time for your child regardless of the age. But, the single most important thing that parents can do to, in fact, the “cornerstones of parenting—listening, caring and guiding through effective and developmentally appropriate discipline – and sharing pleasurable time together are the true predictors of childhood and they serve as a springboard toward a happy, successful adulthood.”

As a society, we’ve gotten this all backwards. Many parents feel pressured to start their children in academic-enrichment programs at a young age, sign them up for multiple activities that the child feels pressured to excel in and in the meantime, the family’s time is spent driving around from activity to activity grabbing fast food on the way.

Marketing experts have brainwashed us into believing that we must start our child out on a diet of Baby Einstein products from birth to get our child on the path to the finest colleges. The marketers pound into our psyche that we’re never doing enough for our children so that we’ll continue to buy products. The result is that we feel inadequate, overburdened and guilty. i.e. stressed by the tireless and endless job that we have.

What the AAP report says, is that your time and attention are the real “products” that your child needs. And while it’s important for children to be challenged in school and feel success in other activities, don’t get carried away.

Some, but not all kids, are experiencing increased stress and anxiety, a loss of sleep and expectations of perfectionism. The most startling finding the report brings to light involves college students. A study by the American College Health Association reported that “45% of college students felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning, 61% had feelings of hopelessness during the previous academic year and 9% suffered suicidal ideation. Feelings of perfectionism, overly critical parents and a pressured life style were noted as some of the reasons.

So what can you do? Take the “Is Your Child Overscheduled?” assessment here: http://www.familiesfirstcoaching.com/pdf/IsYourChildOverscheduledAssessm...

Then, document how each child spends his/her time. Include time that you spend with each child outside of the car or a structured activity. Also include time all together as a family, meals together, etc. This will be your reality check.

Then assess your values. Do my child’s activities reflect the values that are most important to me? Is there a balance of varying activities: social, emotional, athletic, and academic? If not, start dropping some activities and shifting others.

Learn to say “no” to your child. Learn to say “no” to marketers’ pressure to create the perfect child. By cutting back on your child’s activities, you’ll feel less stress and create more balance in your life.
If you’d like the tools to make real changes, consider the workbook I wrote: “On Overload? 28 Solutions to Help Achieve Work Family Balance.” Packed with assessments, real life examples and practical advice, you’ll develop a road map that you can return to time and time again to make real changes when life slips out of balance.

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Reference: "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds." Kenneth Ginsburg, American Academy of Pediatrics. To read a copy of the full report go to: http://www.aap.org/pressroom/playFINAL.pdf

Author's Bio: 

Visit www.getparentinghelpnow.com to receive the free mini-course “The 7 Worst Mistakes Parents Make (and How to Avoid Them!) and find instant answers to 17 common parenting problems. Toni Schutta is a Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist with 15 years experience helping families find solutions that work.