Time: Is Less More when it Comes to Extra-Curricular Activities?
Dr. Kevin Leman says it may be time for parents to reconsider how much time their children are spending away from home with the "extras" of life – dance lessons, music lessons, and organized sports – before they fall into the "activity trap." He says your children can actually gain more by spending more time together as a family at home.
The following is an excerpt from his book, Home Court Advantage.
High parental expectations are nothing new, but greater disposable time and income now allow us to pursue pie-in-the-sky dreams to a degree perhaps never seen before. Parents are throwing time and money at their kids' future "success" as if parenting was- career coaching, and as if family life was training for the Olympics.
I realize that most of you aren't packing your bags for the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs. But if you step back and evaluate your expectations, you'll probably find that in some ways you are packing your child's emotional bags for that destination the world calls success.
The activity trap, I call it. It's not easy to escape, because you don't feel steel jaws biting into your leg when you're in it. More likely, your entrapment will be applauded. You may receive the praise of parents in your neighborhood carpool and believe you're helping your child advance. But if your family relationships and your child's character development are more important to you than whether he makes a career of hitting a little white ball long distances or is admitted to East Coast schools that are overgrown with ivy, then you need to examine how these misconceptions subtly affect you.
1. No Worm for the Too-early Bird
Some parents, not wanting their kids to be left behind in anything, push them to get ahead in everything. Believing the early bird gets the worm, they may think that bird must try its wings earlier and earlier to reach the head of the pecking order. Thus the early childhood years, which should be a time of bonding between parent and child, are transformed into a survival-of-the-fittest battle among the little peeps.
But have you ever watched a nest of baby birds? The strongest hatchling, the one who often ventures into the world first, isn't always the most successful. In fact, if it leaves the nest too soon, it may not survive the first few weeks. Even if your kids get an early start, it doesn't always have the intended effect.
You've probably heard of the famous 1993 study by Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky regarding the so-called "Mozart effect." It suggested that children who listened to classical music while they were very young developed higher IQs than those who didn't. The findings became so popular that in 1998 the governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, began giving classical music CDs to every child born in the state.
But independent studies have since shown that the Mozart effect doesn't exist. Today, developmental psychologists say the best way to stimulate a youngster's brain is through multisensory input. "Babies learn through multiple senses being rewarded simultaneously," says Irving Lazar, a developmental psychologist and professor emeritus at Cornell University. "This means the best opportunity for a child to learn is from another person, who can stimulate sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell, sometimes all at once."
Many parents still use the "baby genius" videos, thinking, Well, they can't hurt. But Lazar and Lisa Bain, editor of Parenting magazine, caution that filling toddlers' time with such screen-staring can remove the foundation of their development—human interaction.
"Flashcards for an infant?" asked one toy store manager, who refused to carry them. "I can't imagine flashing cards at a 6-month-old. Take them for a walk. Let them see a real flower."
In short, social interaction rather than intellectual exercises is what nurtures your child's development. And what more important social interaction is there than that within the family?
2. Make an Indelible Imprint At Home
Dr. Brenda Hunter, psychologist and author, describes what I call the "indelible imprint" that a parent leaves on a child. She believes that the parental relationship forms the basis for a child's perceptions of himself or herself. "According to Bowlby," she says in her book Home by Choice,
"a young child forms 'internal working models' of himself, his parental attachments, and his world out of the raw material of his parental relationships.
Based on the way his parents treat him, a child will form certain expectations about how others will treat him. If the parents are warm, loving, and emotionally accessible, the child comes to believe that he is loving and worthy. As he matures, he will possess high self-esteem; he will be able to trust others and, later in life, have the capacity to be intimate with a spouse and children. Secure in his parental attachments, this individual will expect others to treat him the same way his parents have."
Those raw materials include your physical affection, your presence at home, and your spoken words to your child. The child whose introduction to language from her parents includes hearing that she "doesn't amount to much" will soon come to believe what she hears. Conversely, the child whose introduction to the world through language is shaped by consistent affirmations that she is loved will form a mental image of herself that fits those messages.
Before you read any further—stop! Do you understand what Dr. Hunter is pointing out here? Slowly reread those two paragraphs above—out loud even—because they are so crucial to our discussion of setting up the home court advantage and leaving that indelible imprint on your children.
3. Homegrown Strengths
Homegrown parenting and the home court advantage begin by looking forward. Years from now, when your daughter heads off to college or your son moves into his first apartment and you bid her or him farewell with teary eyes, what do you want your child to be able to handle? What kind of foundation would you like him or her to have?
A homegrown child isn't known by what she does as much as by what she is. That's an important distinction that can be developed only through time and parental involvement.
Time together at home as a family is the foundation upon which security and stability are built in your children.
Having a homegrown child is all about the relationship. Your relationship with your children—how you see and interact with them—forms the basis for their perceptions of themselves.
You can't have it all. Ask yourself: What are my priorities and am I truly living them out?
To avoid the activity trap:
Beware of the subtle expectations you may have for your children, the things that come naturally to you but may not come naturally to them;
Beware of telling yourself that you're encouraging activities for your child's benefit—they may be for your own benefit in the praise you receive from your peers;
Beware of early comparisons between your children and others;
Keep in mind that the best way to stimulate a youngster's brain is through multisensory stimulation, namely social and familial interaction at home.
Used with permission from Home Court Advantage by Dr. Kevin Leman.
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