How Parents Can Help Their Children Get Organized and Learn to Be Productive Part 6

In this society, you’ve likely been brainwashed to believe that you aren’t a good parent unless your child plays competitive soccer by the time she’s ten, she’s active in the Girl Scouts, can play the piano masterfully, and swims beautifully…and, by the way, leases a horse. Hear a little sarcasm in my voice? For years, I bought into this notion as well and dutifully enrolled my little girl in ballet, piano, church programs, choirs, Girl Scouts, basketball, and more. I used the rationale that “she has to try everything so she can find out what she likes.” 

Many children are so overscheduled, their stress levels race sky-high and the entire family comes apart at the seams. Many parents feel guilty because of the number of hours they spend at work. As a result, they overcompensate by signing their children up for myriad activities to show their commitment. When they aren’t working in the evenings and weekends, they shuttle their kids back and forth between activities, never realizing any quality time together. Your children don’t want all that activity—they just want YOU.

Still, parents tell themselves that all these activities are good for them. Yes, you may see long-term benefits—but at what cost? What cost to your children’s stress levels? What cost to your relationships with them? What cost to the sanity of your family? What cost to your spouse—the person you never see anyway because soccer games are held on complete opposite ends of town? Can simply spending quality time together strengthen your relationship?

Having made big changes in my thinking in this area, I offer these suggestions that might work for you:

One activity at a time. Sometimes it’s easy to make excuses for why your children are involved in so many “good” programs. For example, we have a Wednesday night program at our church that Meagan joined for a year. “My goodness,” I thought. “We have to be able to make time for her to learn about the Lord.”  Forget that she was already participating in another program on Sundays that required her to study lessons during the week. Forget that she had Girl Scouts every other Monday, piano lessons on Wednesday after school, and soccer practice on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, with games on Saturday morning. AAAARRRGGGHHH! I soon realized that it was easy to “justify” the need to participate in yet one more thing because it was a church function. So we gave up going to this program and felt good about the additional family time we’d gained. The benefits of that time are arguably better than what she’d get from attending the church program. The key is to achieve a good balance.

One season, one sport. Tell your child he/she must choose only one sport to focus on each season. For example, if playing on both volleyball and basketball teams occur in the same season, pick one over the other. If your child really enjoys soccer but also wants to ride horses, take a hiatus from riding during the spring soccer season. Then ride during the summer until soccer begins again in the fall. When it’s too cold to play soccer or ride horses, take a few months of swimming lessons at an indoor pool.

Find activities more than one child likes. My husband and I teach Sunday school. We tend to arrive at church feeling a bit frazzled and thrown-together after getting three kids fed, dressed, and out the door. But one of the other teachers always looks amazingly put together, despite the fact she has four young children at home. So I asked about her family management tips for being relaxed and happy. She told me one of her secrets was to find a single activity that all the children could participate in together, no matter what their ages. That way, she wouldn’t be running around so much. She let her children decide what sport to be involved in, and they chose swimming. Practice times are the same for everyone and the meets happen at the same place. What a great idea!  Now I’m applying the same concept for my boys with piano lessons, karate, and soccer league (not all at the same time!).

Log and limit technology time. Set a time limit for yourself and your children for television, video games, IM time, phone, and Web surfing. Any combination of the above is allowed, but not all. I’d start with a maximum of 90 minutes a day and reduce it from there.  Require each person to annotate the log when spending budgeted time in one area. Keep the log (with a pen attached) near the activity area to make it easy for each person to complete. Review the logs often so you know what’s going on.

Conclusion

From a very early age, our children depend upon us for structure and predictability.  The benefits of organization to children are many: they feel secure when they know they can depend on an outcome; organization helps them gain self-control; it keeps their stress levels in check; and they develop a sense of confidence and independence. 

With a little help from you, children can learn to be organized.  It’s not innate: they weren’t born with this ability.  And it’s an ongoing quest for you and them.  Help your children gain control over their lives by modeling it.  If you make to-do lists, teach your children to do them and explain why you use them.  If you use a planner, get a children’s version and show them how to track homework assignments and schedules and record project due dates.

The key is to organize a little bit every day—not just during the first days of school.  I hope you gained some new ideas in one of the six important areas of organization for your children and can put some new systems in place in your quest to help them become productive citizens.  You can discover many more systems in my book Find More Time: How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It.

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