If your nightly refrain is how tired you and the kids are, perhaps your family is struggling with how to balance work, school, and activities. Here are some quick tips for juggling the various schedules and spend some quality time together:
- Create a family night. The solution is simple and can create memories to last a lifetime. Whether it's movie night, take-out night (think pizza or Chinese, for example), game night, or a family walk night, the key is that a night each week is designated for together time. Relax...and talk with each other! You might be surprised the things you learn from your kids on your special night.
- Enjoy and interact with your child's friends. Yes, really! Letting kids "hang out" at your place gives you valuable insight into what interests and motivates your own child as well as understanding the "crowd" he or she is associating with. For younger kids, an hour or two with a friend can teach sharing, responsibility, taking turns, and other traits through actual learning and experiences. And don't forget that many child experts indicate that free time for play and social interaction can be better for a child's development than too many organized or structured activities.
- Let your child choose his/her interests, and not you. Too many well-meaning parents sign their kids up for activities they're truly not at all interested in or good at, then face conflicts and power struggles as a result. It's another issue all-together if your child constantly begs to sign up for activities and then wants to quit, but kids at even a young age develop certain interests and dreams that they want to pursue. And, they most likely won't be the same dreams you had either! Be careful to choose your battles and accommodate activity requests where practical.
- Consider the commitment when making decisions. More and more activities are emphasizing additional practices and time requirements in today's competitive world. You as the parent have to decide if a particular activity is appropriate for your child. Options for time-pressed families is to sign kids up for a recreation league vs. a select season; for pee wee-cheerleading instead of a year-round squad, for example.
- Determine your child's commitment as well. If your kid says an activity "might" be fun, avoid committing to a full season or year. Not only could it present a problem for your child if he/she doesn't like it, but will infringe on the other players/members participating in the activity. Many teams rely on a certain number of players or kids to form a group, and a last-minute pull-out could cause an impact on everyone else. If you're not sure, consider signing your child up for a mini-camp or week-long or short session instead. If your kid loves it, then you can always seek something more in the future.
- Assign family responsibilities. If everyone in the family is participating in some type of activity, then general household chores may be harder to get accomplished due to lack of time. Have a family meeting and explain that in order to do these enrichment activities/sports/music, everyone will have to pitch in to make sure the clothes still get washes, dishes done, and table cleared. If you set expectations up front, any grumbling will be minimized. Even small kids can help set the table, clear dishes, or take out the trash cans to the curb.
- Watch for signs of being overextended and adjust schedules as needed. If your kid's grades starting plummeting or you get a note that says Emma often falls asleep after mid-morning snack, you may be asking too much of them. Keep in mind a child's age, personality, and true interest in making decisions.
- Encourage the "all for one and one for all" concept. A family who plays together, stays together is the message and encourage your kids to support each other's activities and endeavors.
- Above all, keep family first! Keeping your priorities straight will ensure a happier, better-adjusted family.