Updated: Jan 6
Juggling activities is making your kids dumber
Let me know if this sounds familiar: You get off work earlier than everyone else at work, rush to beat traffic, just to get to the front of the pick-up line, run your child home, feed them, do so much homework “with” your child, and then grab the bag of the day. Wait, is it Tuesday or Friday? Wait, where are we going? Oh no. This weeks soccer schedule has us 11 miles away and it’s 4:35. That means if we don't get in the car in exactly two minutes we are going to hit traffic on the Parkway. And now I have to cancel violin because soccer doesn’t bother to let me know what day my game is until Thursday.
Are you stressed? If the answer is yes, then, in all likelihood, so are your kids. Studies have proven, without a doubt, that stress is terrible on animals, plants, and, yes, even adults. Do we think our kids are impervious? Think again.
FOMO: why we think we are doing this.
My guess is that you have a checklist of things you want for your child. To be a good team player and a good leader, to give them experiences and opportunities, physical activities, as well as social skills--oh and don't forget the fear of missing out. But what is this doing to your kid? Making them “well rounded” for college? Colleges DO NOT want well-rounded kids. “Students are hearing all the same advice so they end up looking like everybody else” says former college admissions interviewer from Cornell, Shriag Shemmassian, in an article. They want students with discipline, athletic ability, the ability to finish what they start, and problem-solvers with the ability to overcome adversity. Their tiny-kick kids soccer class is not getting them there.*
Your child can only better himself / herself when you as a family choose one or two activities that align with your family’s value system. Developing deep learning, passion, and grit by limiting the commitments they make, and honoring those commitments is best practice. Teaching them to stick it out, regardless of how much homework they have, is the measure of success. Your child will accomplish all the things you wish for them even if they are not in every single activity.
I'm not saying that any one activity is better than the other (actually, I believe, and can prove, that ballet is a good option), but what I would like to offer is an alternative life choice that will improve your life as well as your child’s.
Overbooking leads to high levels of stress
The perceived pressure of making the grade, winning the game, or memorizing the song with perfect precision all in the same week would be hard on an adult, let alone a child whose brain is still developing. “Elevated stress hormones such as cortisol have been shown to affect the growth and performance of the hippocampus and the activity of the amygdala in rodents and nonhuman primates, and early and persistent activation of the stress response system adversely affects brain architecture in these critical regions,” says Harvard researchers.” “Um, my kid isn’t a rodent and they are pretty happy,” you may think. “What does that have to do with me?” That same Harvard study has linked this to children in constant states of stress. For young children, prolonged trauma (stress) “can trigger anxious behaviors that impair their ability to learn and to interact socially with others.” Isn't the reason we are doing all this to make sure they are learning and able to interact with others?
So if overbooking is harmful for your child, what do you do?
I bet you have figured this out. Pick one thing that checks all the boxes. My obvious opinion is that ballet checks most, if not all of these boxes. Ballet is a physical outlet, it advocates teamwork as well as developing self starting skills. Ballet is rigorous and is demanding, from which you can derive long term benefit. It is an artform that uses math, music, movement, physics, artistry the list goes on and on. Students have opportunities to teach , to help, and to assist their fellow students by passing along choreography and helping each other, even if it doesn’t benefit them.
I'll finish with a good example. An advanced student in our lower school was given a solo part. This particular role is usually performed by three dancers and was cast as such. The choice of solo only happened after the other two dancers failed to rehearse and prove preparedness to the director. Most children would take the win and move on. Not ours. This student made sure her friends knew the dance and were able to perform it for the director. She did this without any of the teachers knowledge. She never disrupted her regularly scheduled classes or rehearsals, and because she didn't have to run to the next activity, she was able to put in the extra time that was needed, just in the nick of time for her friends. They were put back in the dance. That example of leadership and value-driven behavior is what can happen when a child has the time to develop, not only knowledge, but meaningful connection and has the time to do it. As a side note, this child is 9, plays an instrument, and dances, and that's it. She is a great student in school and at dance. Wouldn't you like your child to act like this when no one is watching?
If this is something you would like for your child get started here.
*Stay tuned to my article “what colleges really want---I can prove it!”