HomeHealth & BehaviorEmotional Well-Being

PTO Today

Finding balance in your child's life

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By Emily Graham, PTO Today

The simpler life

As you cut down on outside activities, set aside dedicate time for the family to be together. Taking a few minutes to relax after getting home can lower everyone's stress levels and help family members to reconnect after a busy day, Kendall-Tackett says: "A lot of times, people get home and immediately dive into meal preparation, and it tends to be one of the worst hours of the day."

Streamlining household routines can also make time at home more relaxed, she continues. (See "The Morning Rush" below for ideas to make your morning easier.) You don't have to reorganize your whole house or overhaul your whole life. Keep spaces that you use every day, like the kitchen counter or home office, free of clutter. Focus your efforts on cleaning the areas in your house where things tend to gather, such as at the bottom and top of staircases or on the dinner table. Keep things where you use them so you don't have to search the house just to find a pair of scissors. If you have to spend time rummaging through drawers looking for frequently used items, clean out the junk. Once you create a pocket of organization in your house, it's likely to spread, Kendall-Tackett says. "The goal is not to be hyperorganized for the sake of it, but to make it easier."

Even with the best of intentions, though, changing the family dynamic takes time. Don't expect to meet every goal right off the bat, especially regarding home organization. Kendall-Tackett and Doe both urge parents to let go of the idea of being a perfect parent and resist feeling guilty if the house is less than immaculate.

"Give yourself permission to step off the fast track," Doe says, "trusting you're giving [your children] the best gift: being present in their lives without being exhausted."

The morning rush

Your morning routine can have a huge effect on how you feel the rest of the day. Instead of getting out of bed earlier to do everything, family psychologist Kathleen Kendall-Tackett recommends trying the following tips to save time.

After dinner, prep breakfast food and make lunches for the following day. Have your kids lay out their clothes before going to bed. Avoid last-minute surprises by asking your kids what items they will need for the following day's activities. Have them gather everything together in the evening.

Keep spare school supplies accessible and in a designated area. Set aside an area for each family member to place items they will take to work or school the next day. Have children check that they have everything the night before so they're not looking for lost homework in the morning. Have healthy, self-serve food on hand for breakfast. Organize bathroom drawers and cabinets so you don't have to search for the items you use every day.

Is your family overscheduled?

Organized activities can help children gain skills and self-confidence, but too much structured activity can contribute to anxiety, stress, and depression in children and cause kids to become self-critical perfectionists, reports a 2006 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"You don't get to know each other because there's not time to just really be," says family psychologist Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. "You're just interacting between activities."

Ask yourself these questions to help determine whether your family is overscheduled:

  • Do your children enjoy their extracurricular activities? Do you enjoy them?
  • What does the activity accomplish?
  • Is it being done out of habit?
  • Do you feel like your kids need to be in activities because everyone else is, too?
  • Do your kids spend so much time in activities that you don't know what else is going on in their lives?

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Comments from readers

"I loved this article. When my now 6-yr old twins were infants and I first began reading child development books, finding information on slowing down was almost impossible and people looked as if you were a freak for not having your toddler in swim, music, dance,.. I'm glad there is a growing awareness that childhood cannot be repeated. There's time for everything except to do it again."
"I enjoyed this article very MUCH... thank you. I actually learned a little bit about me, as the parent too. I agree, when we try to focus so hard on the children we do start to loose that joy of parenting. I love being a parent and wouldn't trade it for anything, but I do get tired and feel less joy if they aren't happy in doing the extra's too. The focus is the children. They benefit from the extra activities, only if they want to do it, not if they are forced... Thank you for the insight."
"Great article! But what about the work load that comes with homework. Today, it seems that our children have to learn so much in so little time.A homework packet for my 2nd grader consists of math and reading for almost everyday of the week until Monday - when its turned in. Reading & Math together every night! By the time homework is complete, its time for dinner, bath and bedtime. So where is there more room for any activities. Homework is so much more different from when I was growing up.I cant remember having to do so much! I am not an avid fan of No Child Left Behind."
"Great article for first time moms with first time Kindergarteners, going to 'real' school now."
"For better or worse, we have no available time to get overscheduled as my 11-year old brings home 3 hours of homework each evening. She has no time to just be a kid. Her entire schedule is work, work, work."