Slow down: Kids need free time


Q: We are struggling with how many activities our children should be involved in. So many of our kids’ friends seemingly have no trouble juggling schoolwork with music lessons, dance, sports programs, etc. We don’t want our children to miss opportunities, but we rush from one thing to the next and stay exhausted. Will my kids be missing out if I cut out some of their extracurricular activities?

A: In his book “The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon, David Elkind, Ph.D., writes “Ours is a hurried and hurrying society. We are always on the lookout for ways of doing things faster and more expeditiously. From a child development point of view, perhaps the most significant transformation in child life is that infancy and early childhood are now the focus of hurrying.”

Advertisers make claims that stimulating young children with DVDs, French lessons and early tennis lessons will help your toddler achieve that Super Kid label. Our society has become one in which many people view being busy and hurrying as status symbols of their importance.

This, of course, trickles down to the children who we are raising. You are right to question how important all these extra opportunities are. Certainly being involved in some extra activities is important for children. However, sometimes less is really more. Our lives are packed. We rush to the bank, and we rush to work. We rush to the grocery store and switch lines to get the fastest cashier to rush to do something else. And, our children rush around with us.

We all want to take advantage of great opportunities that will enhance our personal and professional lives. And, obviously, we all want the best for our children. What’s not so good about taking more lessons, participating in more activities and learning new skills?

Well, there could be several things. Does your child have plenty of free time where he or she simply plays? Just as we face stress in our day, so do children. Free play allows kids time to relax, use their imagination and be creative. Are your children irritable and moody — simply tired from being so involved? Spend more time at home. Most children really need the re-energizing that comes from having down time.

Keep your family balanced — honoring spiritual, emotional and physical health. It’s hard, but try not to let what other parents do influence the way you parent your own children. If your child wants to participate in an activity that he or she enjoys, then encourage that. However, use your best judgment. Constant over-scheduling will lead to tired, cranky, stressed children.

Keep in mind that the real things that foster kind, respectful and well-rounded children are your love and support, family time, attention to their schoolwork, encouraging them to spend time playing and enjoying nature and most importantly, spending time with them.

“Go for a family walk when the moon is full,” says Richard Louv, the author of the “Last Child in the Woods.” We did that with our daughter recently. We may not sign up for any new programs and activities this summer. Instead, we just might spend these long, warm, summer evenings looking up at the moon and the stars.

Sherri Wall McMillen works for Moses Cone Behavioral Health Center in Greensboro. Please submit your questions to “Is My Kid OK?” by e-mailing

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