Q: I am having issues balancing my sixth-grader's schoolwork and activities. He loves too many things. He wants to do it all. I have tried to say no, but, to me, that seems like a punishment. At the moment, he's in band, jazz band, two teams after school and one activity before school. And he has a tutor because he has some slight learning issues. How do I help him tone it down without it seeming like I'm doing this as a punishment?
A: Your parenting predicament is pretty normal in 2018. Many children are blessed (cursed?) with an overabundance of options, and it is often a juggling act to keep it straight.
I have been rereading your note, and here is my first question (and I ask this with no snark): Whose problem is this? I see that you are having issues balancing your son’s work and social life, as well as desiring to tone it down, but why? And if you tell me, “Because we are broke and exhausted by my son’s schedule,” well, that’s a valid reason. I know many parents who are pushing themselves to the brink to pay for activities as well as driving their children from here to Timbuktu.
If your family life is becoming untenable because of these activities, I strongly suggest you sit down with any other adult who manages money and time in the house and discuss what you think is best for everyone. Address any concerns you think your son may raise and have an idea of how you would handle them. Afterward, call a meeting with your son and let him know that one or two (or however many you decide) activities need to be dropped. Rank the activities with your son and come to an agreement. Maybe the activity can be concluded (the sport) and not picked back up? Maybe he can pause the band for the winter and pick it up in the spring? Keep your options and mind open, but please be prepared for your child to be unhappy with this decision. He may throw a tantrum or stomp off, but you have to continue to hold the boundary; otherwise you will be back to where you started and he would have pushed you around. These decisions are painful, but often necessary in parenting. It is part of the gig.
But maybe your letter is asking something else. Is it that you just “feel” like this is all too much, but your son is thriving? Do you think that children should not be doing so much? That a child who piles on so many activities will burn out? There is article after article detailing the breakdowns facing overscheduled children. The problem? Your letter does not indicate he is struggling.
Could it be that he’s thriving? Two bands, two teams and another activity may be enriching his life. Amid a packed schedule, it may be difficult to spot the benefits, but it isn’t rare for children who have learning issues to find that they thrive in other areas. If your son is musical and sporty and loves to be part of groups (which is great for responsibility and belonging), he could be displaying many talents and skills that are not as readily apparent in the classroom. And as your son excels in these activities, his self-esteem soars, which in turn can help his tutoring and academic efforts.
I am the last person to advocate for more, more, more, but if your child is happy and thriving, and somehow balancing his many activities, I am hesitant to tell you to change it. In fact, there is so much value in music and sports that I feel compelled to encourage you to keep him going.
If you want to stay on top of these activities and plan for the future, I suggest that you hold frequent (weekly or twice monthly) family meetings. These meetings will give you opportunities to assess how your son is feeling about his activities, as well as what the next couple of weeks, months and the rest of the school year look like. Instead of feeling as if you are punishing your son (a point you raise twice), the family meetings allow everyone to have a voice in the schedules . For instance, you can plan whether you want to fill in breaks between sports with something else or allow for some downtime. The family meetings can be empowering and teach everyone how to look at the larger picture.
Enjoy your son’s many talents and good luck.
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