Be versatile while managing your child's activities
BY NOUR HABIB World Scene Writer
Monday, December 03, 2012
12/03/12 at 3:53 AM
Broken Arrow kindergartner Emerson Bare began taking dance lessons when she was 18 months old. Now, at age 6, she's enrolled in gymnastics.
Emerson's mother, Jennifer Bare, thinks structured activities such as these are important for children. Her son, Kade Bare - a high school senior - had also been involved in multiple sports until recent injuries kept him from playing.
"I think it's important for their social development, as well as just basic exercise," she said.
Being involved in these activities helps them burn off energy and keeps them from sitting in front of the TV all the time, she said.
Structured, or not
There are several benefits to structured activities, which include such things as team sports and music or art lessons, said Robert Hudson, a behavioral pediatrician and clinical professor at the OU College of Community Medicine.
Structured activities can teach cooperation, teamwork, sportsmanship, strategy, and show children how to follow directions.
But Hudson cautions against overloading your children with too many activities.
"What I'm seeing is really over-programmed kids with absolutely no nonstructured time," he said.
Kids younger than 10 need free play time as much as, or more than, they need structured play time, Hudson said.
Going to the park, playing on the playground or engaging in other activities not directed by adults allows kids to learn self-regulation, persistence and resilience.
Tish Dehart, a behavioral health specialist and clinic manager of the Child Guidance program at the Tulsa Health Department, said free play makes certain connections in children's brains that they can't necessarily get through structured activities.
"It helps them learn how to solve problems," she said. "When they're having free time with other children, it really begins to set some nice opportunities for socialization - they have to learn how to compromise, they have to learn how to negotiate with other children, which is really important in overall development."
Finding a good balance
All parents want to enrich their children, Dehart said, but they should be careful not to overwhelm them in the process.
Hudson recommends that children younger than 10 not be involved in more than one sports activity per week.
But it depends on your child, Dehart said.
"You have to gauge how your child is responding to all the activities," she said.
"Kids can get over-stressed with having too much to do, too. So if they get kind of fussy or cranky, or if you're feeling that you have to keep track of this stuff on a spreadsheet or a calendar, it might be too much."
If your children are tired or sleepy all the time, that also may be a sign they have too much going on.
"If they are not getting meals on time and not going to bed on time, then they are way over-programmed," Hudson said.
Suffering schoolwork is also an indicator of stress.
If you feel that your children are stressed out, consider eliminating about 10 percent of their activities to see if that makes a difference, Dehart said.
Bare said she always tries to make sure that her family has some downtime. Emerson has gymnastics practice only once a week, and before signing her up for a soccer team in the spring, Bare checked their website to make sure their practice was limited to once a week, as well.
"I strive to sit down for dinner twice a week, if we can do that," she said. "It does get hard as you're juggling everybody's activities and schedules, but I do think it's important."
Free time spent with families allows time for conversation and helps create lasting memories for children, Dehart said.
Bare enrolled her daughter in activities that she showed interest in and specifically requested.
It's important to listen to what your children are telling you - through their actions as well as their words - when deciding what to enroll them in, Hudson said.
If your son is humming all the time and enjoys music class in school, consider enrolling him in music lessons. If your daughter is shy or cautious, do not put her in a risk-filled sport. Do not place your child on a team just because you are interested in the activity, because you may be setting him to fail, Hudson said.
Structured activities should be an opportunity for children to pursue their own interests, Dehart said.
"If it's not an enjoyable activity for them anymore, if it becomes more of this 'I gotta go' kind of thing, that really does defeat the purpose of what we're doing to begin with," she said.
Original Print Headline: Maintaining balance
Nour Habib 918-581-8369
Emerson Bare, 6 (foreground), and Payton Short, 6 (right), do gymnastic exercises during a class in Bixby last week. Structured activities like this are important for children, experts say, but so is free play time. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World