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Monday, April 30, 2012

Overscheduling Your Kids

I've seen it time and time again--a bleary-eyed child climbing out of the car wearing his soccer uniform or her gymnastics clothes. They're less than enthusiastic about going grocery shopping. Their mother is tired from carting them from one activity to another and then having to do her errands afterwards. And all this after a full day of work for her and school or day care for the kids. Everyone is dragging, or worse, stressed out and irritated with each other. Does it really have to be this way?
No, it doesn't. When you feel like you're running more than you'd like or your energy is never quite where it should be it's time to re-evaluate your family's life. Start with these questions.

1. Do I have time to enjoy just being with my children outside of activities?
2. Is it difficult for your children to do their responsibilities (chores, homework, pet care, etc.) after their activities?
3. Do you feel like you're always on the go with little time to relax?
4. How does everyone genuinely feel about the activities they're involved in?

After you answer these questions, you can decide what, if any, changes you'd like to make. It may be time to unschedule a few things to make time for nothing. Nothing? Yep. Sometimes you just need to do nothing.

Every family needs down time. Playing games, riding bikes, even watching a favorite TV show together builds family relationships. Just being home with everyone doing their own thing is sometimes nice. I used to love hearing my teenage son playing his guitar in his room. I'd run the mixer in the kitchen while baking something and he'd come down asking what I was doing. Or when my husband putzes in the garage and I sit and read in the house, it's just nice to be home together, letting everyone be themselves. My daughter often reads me funny posts on Facebook when we're home together. If you're constantly scheduled, there's little time for these relaxed family times.

So how do you choose what to cut out? First, if anyone is unhappy in an activity or wants to drop something, give them your blessing and say yes. The world will not end if your child isn't on the team or in the recital. If no one wants to drop anything, look at your calendar and create some guidelines of how many times you're willing to drive kids to activities. Then stick to it. Kids may have to alternate when they participate in things. Maybe the summer is when your star baseball player needs to be involved in his sport. Your daughter may have to put off her dance classes until school starts. Not everyone has to do everything at the same time.

Sometimes it's the parents' role to do what's best for the family as a whole and simply say, "We're not doing any extra activities this year. We're taking a break from everything and spending time together." This means parents take a break from their extra stuff, too! If you do this, your kids may complain or they may breathe a sigh of relief. Either way, I'd suggest at that point you sit down as a family and make a list of all the fun stuff you can do during the year.

But watch out! Don't overschedule yourself or your kids again. Commit to keeping the schedule relaxed and flexible. Above all, enjoy your family activities at a leisurely pace so you can savor every minute together.

How can you tell when you or your kids are overscheduled? What steps have you taken or are you going to take to avoid being too busy? How do you decide what to cut out?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

5 Ways to Teach Kindness to Your Kids

Children being kind to each other. Brothers and sisters helping one another. A child comforting another child when he's hurt. All are wonderful sights. But how does a child become kind and compassionate?

By being taught and witnessing it in the lives of the people he loves. When a child is treated kindly, he learns to respond the same way to others. The same goes for compassion. Here are a few ideas of how you can teach kindness to your kids.

1. When you hear a child crying in the store, don't get annoyed. Tell your child, "It sounds like someone feels sad." This acknowledges the noise, yet links it to an emotion. It makes you and your child feel bad for the sad child instead of yourself.

2. Take your children with you when you visit someone in the hospital. Let them hear the things you say to the patient and see how you gently touch them. Include them in the conversation.

3. When you see a homeless person, stop and give them something. We sometimes make a stop at the dollar store and pick up a few items of food, chapstick, bottled water, combs, etc. and go back to give it to the person. Talking to someone who's different than you takes away some of the mystery and fear of them. When children see and hear a homeless person's surprised and grateful response it impacts them deeply. The needy person's smile will remain in your child's mind long after the actual encounter.

4. Before your child has a friend over, remind her to play things the friend would like to play, to let the friend go first, and to treat the friend as the special guest he or she is.

5. Allow a child to help any way he can. This includes providing comfort to others of any age. Compliment their kindness.

Children can be taught kindness just as we teach them anything else in life. As always, the best teacher is your example, so be consistently kind to others and to your child. Speak gently and be kind through your actions and attitude.

What things have you done to teach your kids to be kind? In what ways have you seen your child being kind or compassionate?