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Scheduling Your Kids for Success is Overrated

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Scheduling Your Kids for Success is Overrated

Jill Maldonado

Beyond wanting to keep our children safe and reasonably happy, one of the greatest wishes parents have for their kids is that they become successful.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the best way to do that is to pack their schedules with lessons and activities while they’re young so they have the chance to develop the skills and talents they’ll bring into adulthood.

We all know the power of FOMO (fear of missing out), but it’s got nothing on FOYKMO (fear of your kids missing out). We can’t stand the thought that something they miss out on when they’re young will have far-reaching implications for their adult lives. So, we feel compelled to enroll them in chess club, soccer, gymnastics, dance and piano lessons.

Believe me, I totally get it! When my kids were little, my dreams for them far outstripped the number of hours in a day and I’d find myself wistfully reading class descriptions and camp mission statements while visions of enrichment activities danced in my head.

But, recent studies are finding that kids with less structured schedules actually have better executive functioning skills and are more self-motivated.

What I’ve learned in parenting my own kids has reinforced those findings. I didn’t overschedule my young kids, not because I possessed any great parenting wisdom, but because my kids simply wouldn’t have it. They are both extraordinarily strong willed and if they don’t want to do something, they are not going to do it. Besides music, (one plays the violin, the other plays the cello) they were not interested in any other extracurricular activities - at all.  And I’ll admit, that was hard for me at first. It was tough to listen to my friends talk about everything their kids were doing and not feel like I was letting my own kids down by not INSISTING they do more.

But fairly early on, I began to see how much my kids benefitted from truly being free with their free time. By the time they were three and five years old, we’d instituted “stay at home days”. One day a week, we went nowhere and nothing was asked of any of us so we were all free to spend our time however we wanted.

The interests my kids developed as they grew up were authentically their own and they developed amazing persistence and deep focus skills. While their peers were at camp being led through a day packed with activities, my kids were teaching themselves how to shoot and edit videos, or making anatomically correct internal organs from felt to put into their stuffed animals. Having agency over how they spent their time taught my kids how to tune into themselves and helped them build a sense of competency as they learned to master the things they were interested in.

While their high school transcripts won’t be jam packed with impressive activities, my kids are  fascinating and thoughtful young people, brimming with their own ideas about life and the world. And parental-bias aside, their self-awareness and self-motivation definitely makes them different from a lot of kids their age.

Does that mean that I think YOU should cancel all the lessons, camps and sports your kids are involved in? Nope. Not necessarily. But I would encourage you to release your anxieties about them missing out on something if you do pare down their schedule (and take comfort in the fact, that science is behind you). If they’re in charge of how they spend their time, what they miss out on will pale in comparison to what they will gain.