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Written by:  Sherri Wall McMillen
Date: September 2, 2012

Q: We are struggling with how many activities our children should be involved in. So many of their friends juggle schoolwork with music lessons, dance and sports programs and just seem to rush from one thing to the next. How do we make sure our children don't miss opportunities, but without exhausting themselves?

A. David Elkind, Ph.D., writes in "The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon" that "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 toddlers achieve that "super kid" label. Our society has become one in which many people view busyness and hurrying as status symbols of their importance.

This, of course, trickles down to the children we are raising. You are right to question how important all these extra opportunities are. 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; we rush to work. We rush to the grocery store and switch lines to get the fastest cashier so we can 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 is not good about taking more lessons, participating in more activities and learning new skills?

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 them time to relax, use their imagination and be creative. Are your children irritable and moody? They may be 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 and honor spiritual, emotional and physical health. It is hard, but try to not let what other parents do influence the way you parent your children. If your child wants to participate in an activity he or she enjoys, then by all means, encourage it. However, use your best judgment. Constant overscheduling will lead to tired, cranky and 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, spending 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, author of the national bestseller "Last Child in the Woods."

That is great advice. I did that with my daughter recently. I may not sign her up for any new programs and activities this fall. Instead, we might just spend these warm, early fall evenings walking down our street looking up at the moon and the stars.

Sherri Wall McMillen works at Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital in Greensboro. Submit your questions to "Is My Kid OK?" by emailing sherri.mcmillen@conehealth.com.



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