A recent survey by Kumon/Ipsos-Reid found that 86 per cent of Canadian children are involved in at least one extracurricular activity and that, on average, children spend 4.6 hours per week participating in after-school activities.
At Free The Children we’ve worked on many youth domestic empowerment programs and leadership training initiatives and workshops. In the years we’ve spent working with and speaking to young people, we’ve ended up speaking to a lot of parents as well. When we started holding workshops specifically for them, we found a number of clock-watching moms and dads squeezing us in between practices and piano lessons.
Nurturing caring and compassion in your child
There is always one parent who stands up to boast about their child’s academic awards, sports trophies and debating plaques. When this parent sits down, another will jump in to talk about their kid the championship skier or class president. Then, when we ask everyone to consider the values they hope to nurture in their children, parents will talk about love, kindness, caring and compassion. We ask mothers and fathers to think about all of this in context of how their children spend their time. If the goal is to raise caring and compassionate children, do jam-packed schedules nurture their souls and spirits? Do they have time for family? Volunteer work? Goofing around with friends?
At this point, the room usually falls silent.
This is where the disconnect between the qualities parents hope to nurture and the time they devote to doing so becomes noticeable. A mom will say she wants to raise a compassionate, caring son but she’ll notice that his free time is consumed by sports. A dad agrees that community service is important, but, he’ll then confess that his daughter is so busy with tutors for homework that she doesn’t even have time to clean up her bedroom.
For many, this is when the light bulb goes on: what parents say they want for their kids can be much different from what their kids are actually doing.
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So how can parents nurture the values they feel are important? How can you strike the balance between instilling those values, and giving kids the free time to just be kids?
A great way to start is by planning a family night, or better yet, a whole family day. Family time and rituals are the glue that holds any family together.
Why not reduce the individual scheduled activities that are taking over your family life and carve out some time for a weekly event such as Saturday breakfast? Remember, meal times are a wonderful opportunity for conversations about new friends, school and even possible problems the kids may be having. Or, plan a game night, afternoon picnic, family bike ride and even a day of puttering around the house together.
Everyone wants their kid to succeed. Everyone wants to raise his or her kids to be kind, caring and compassionate. But what parents need to remember is that these values are often imparted in unexpected ways – not only during practices and rehearsals – and parents and kids have to be together in order for the values to be experienced and taught.
Tips for parents:
1. One-on-one: Talk to your children. Ask them: Are you having fun? Do you feel pressured to participate? Are you tired? Overworked? Happy?
2. Reduce commitments: Review the family calendar from the past month. Is your child involved in too many extracurricular activities? Is there enough time for family bonding?
3. Schedule meaning first: Make sure scheduled extracurricular activities aren’t only filled with sporting events and musical performances. Set aside blocks of time for your family to volunteer together.
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Craig and Marc Kielburger are cofounders of Free The Children, the world's largest network of children helping children through education. Their book, The World Needs Your Kid, is coauthored with journalist Shelley Page and focuses on raising socially conscious kids who care and contribute.