School dismissal at 1:30pm, supplementary lessons at 2pm, home by 4:30pm, piano at 5pm, homework at 6:30pm, dinner at 7:30pm, Math tuition at 8pm, bed at 10pm. Phew.
That’s the daily schedule of a typical school-going child. Parents don’t necessarily have it any easier — with many logging long hours in the office or on the laptop at home. Days like these leave little room to breathe, let alone time for family togetherness. More often than not, packed schedules and busy days give rise to irritable children and snappy parents.
I recently found myself wrestling with the schedules I set for our family. My daughter was tired and complaining about being shuttled from school to tuition in preparation for her exams, my son was nagging me to spend more time playing badminton with him, I was dead-tired from chasing after multiple deadlines, my toddler had traded his usually sunny disposition for whining and being extra clingy from a lack of time with me, and my husband and I hadn’t had a date night in months. I know from personal experience that overbooked families are fatigued, stressed out and have little time to spend together.
As we pondered over how to improve our situation, we came up with the following pointers:
We stopped and took stock of the activities we signed our children up for — at one point, our children were learning soccer, gymnastics, swimming, skateboarding and ballet — and honestly asked ourselves if the motivation for these activities came from us or our children.
It was important to leave our ‘secret gold medal’ dreams for our children on the table and assess which activities they truly enjoyed. We decided to allow our children to choose just one activity each and as of now, our son is pursuing skateboarding, while our daughter has discovered a keen interest in rock-climbing. I suspect our youngest really enjoys his swim classes because I hear squeals of delight amid the splashing.
We had to question if the motivation for these activities came from us or our children.
We’re consciously and mindfully planning our family schedule, with enough flexibility for relaxed, unstructured time. With this in mind, our current timetable allows us one afternoon a week with no outside activities scheduled. Planning our weeks this way also means that we make it a point to factor in buffer time between activities instead of rushing from one thing to another.
According to psychologists, children develop self-consciousness from the age of 11 or 12, so having the time for free play enables them to develop their creativity and imagination. We’ve also seen how our children really enjoy having more time at home and appear more settled when given space to ‘breathe’.
In recent months, our daughter has shown special interest in making miniature clay figurines; by helping her gather resources to indulge in this hobby, I’ve noticed she is assured that we recognise and affirm her uniqueness, without having to use the words “I support you” at all.
In our family, prioritising family time means understanding that less can be more. I found this most difficult because I often find it hard to say “no” to invitations, be they gatherings, playdates or birthday parties. We’ve had to consider what was best for our family and if saying “yes” to an additional appointment would lead to meltdowns from over-tiredness and eat into precious family time, then I’ve learnt to say “no, thank you”.
Prioritising family time means understanding that less can be more.
Finally, we addressed the elephant in the room and acknowledged that we were more addicted to our digital devices than we would like to let on. Family time used to involve my husband and me sporadically checking our phones for emails, but we have now defined family time to being present during our time together.
Our children look forward to game night on Fridays where we take turns to choose games to play together. So far, we’ve played board games and I recently introduced them to a Singapore special — ‘Zero Point’!
This is certainly still a work-in-progress but we’ve also enforced a ban on phone use during meals and designated family times.
Finding the right balance between outside activities, enrichment activities and unscheduled activities helps develop well-rounded children. It has taken a greater concerted effort than I thought it would but even a small change in scaling down our family schedules has shown a big improvement on our family dynamics, with better-rested parents and calmer children as a result!
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Learn how to make the most of your time instead of the most in your time, and find yourselves happier and more relaxed as a family at our upcoming The Parent-Coach Dialogues!