Let’s face it. After-school time is sometimes crazy-time. Parents rush between work and home, carting kids to enrichment activities, rehearsals, tutors and training. All while ensuring everyone eats well-balanced dinners together and gets to bed at a reasonable hour. The pressure is enough to drive anyone nuts.
Balance is key
Here are some suggestions when juggling those hours between 3pm and 9pm. These work during the back-to-school months and all year.
As kids get older, listen to them. What do they enjoy? In what areas do they want to improve? Perhaps, after seven years of piano, they’re ready to move on to something else if they’re still arguing with you over practice time. This is especially true when there are so many other activities to explore. The hours between the dismissal bell and bedtime are prime time for enrichment. Engage in enjoyable activities rather than fighting or arguing.
Value hard work
Talent only takes us so far. In order to be successful, children must learn early about sacrifice and discipline. That’s what they’re learning when they turn off their favorite streaming service to fight traffic, and other headaches, to attend a coding class. Or dance lessons. Or a ballgame. Hard work makes dreams come true.
Cushion the schedule
When scheduling your kids’ activities, factor in the time it takes to get places. That includes stopping for gas, traffic jams and any breaks for snacks. Always give yourself plenty of wiggle room and extra time for when things go sideways. You’ll be glad you did.
On the go
If you have a cooler, load it up with ice on Monday and keep it in the back of your car. Store water and healthy snacks so that kids can help themselves in between programs. You can also store activities in the car to help keep kids busy while they’re waiting at a sibling’s event. Keep coloring, story and activity books, games, puzzles and more on hand.
Set up one night every week to review the family’s activity calendar. Work together as a team to make sure everyone gets to where they need to be. Schedule as many family dinners as possible. There’s no better time to recap the day amidst support and love than the kitchen table. Also try to schedule a family movie or game night. Do something fun and enjoyable with the whole gang.
Plan for down time
Make sure there is time every day for nothing at all. Of course, kids can do something with these moments, whether ten minutes or a half hour. Meditate, read a book, daydream. But leave it to them. Down time recharges their batteries.
Keep your eye on the prize
Don’t overschedule, thinking that college admissions officers want a kid who knows 15 languages and can program robots in his sleep. Most college counselors are looking for well-rounded students who work hard. They need young adults adept at managing workloads and dealing with stress in a healthy manner. That’s what parents are preparing children for with carefully selected, and enjoyable, after-school programs.
Display a family calendar
It helps each member of the family to look at a common calendar and see events for each day. This calendar can be displayed on a phone app, the refrigerator or desk. Whatever works.
Set out supplies the night before
Whether you use a backpack or bag to store your activity or after-school supplies, set them out the night before. This helps reduce stress in the morning.
Know your kids
Parents must routinely determine, and re-determine, what their kids need. They know how many hours of sleep a child requires to be productive and happy. Parents recognize the signs when their kids need to be challenged and supported. Don’t let what the neighbors do with their kids sway you. Do what’s best for your family and adjust as needed. Don’t forget that your team comes first.
If you have time on Saturday or Sunday, plan and prepare the week’s meals. Cook, store and freeze/refrigerate ahead of time. This makes dinner so much more enjoyable each night. Store the pre-made food in bags or containers so they’re easy to grab and heat up. This also helps families eat healthier and with reasonable portions. People who rush and cook quickly tend to eat more than those who plan ahead.
Car time can be fun time
One of the best things about parenting is sharing the music you love with your children. Introduce new bands and genres to your kids when stuck in traffic. Another idea, listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Maybe play conversation games. For example, write a set of cards with prompts like: What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? Or: What countries would you love to visit? Get to know each other in new and fun ways.
Show your kids how to roll with the punches. Sometimes the difference between a good and bad day is how we handle the minor crises that come up. If there’s an accident and traffic is tied up for hours, perhaps it’s best to shrug your shoulders and head home. Ask yourself, “Will this matter one year from now?” If the answer is no, then maybe let it go. Life is too short.
Get your kids’ buy-in with after-school commitments
If your child is loving the enrichment program or baseball practice, it works out better for everyone. This helps you avoid dragging them, kicking and screaming, which is no fun at all. They also learn the important skill of time management. They feel empowered and more in control of their own lives.
In the end, parents can help their kids by teaching them to best manage life in and out of school. They’ll need such skills navigating throughout higher education. They’ll also need this foundation to maintain healthy work-life balances into the future. It starts with juggling after-school activities – now.