Is your child overloaded?

It would seem that having a full diary is the lot of even pre-schoolers nowadays. There is gymnastics, pottery, computer lessons, the list goes on and on.

In primary and secondary school, children become even busier. Which activities should be at the top of your child 's list, and how much is enough? And when should a mom call things to a halt?

Too much, too soon

Erika van Zyl, a Johannesburg occupational therapist, says: 'Sport can help a child to lead a more balanced life, handle stress and have a healthy body, but if a parent can no longer spend time with her child because the child is always occupied, then she is definitely doing too much. Nothing in a child 's life is more important than time spent with a parent.'

Elise Olivier, a child and educational psychologist from Northcliff in Johannesburg, believes that extramural activities can be of great therapeutic value. But she is very firm about children not overdoing it. She cautions against too many activities at a young age.

'No child benefits from having a different activity each day. Children must have free time, and especially pre-schoolers should have plenty of time to play,' says Elise. Her advice is that moms select only one structured activity a year for children under the age of six.

'Rather choose physical activities, such as ballet, gymnastics, or a ball game. In grade 0, your child could select two activities for the year. The second could be something other than a sport – pottery is a good idea.' Elise cautions against computer lessons very early on.

'Remember that your child has to reach certain physical milestones. This has a significant influence on her ability to read and write. Experts estimate that up to 70% of children today have poor muscle tone, with resulting learning problems.Children also have more eye problems due to being allowed unmonitored screen time -too much TV and hours of playing computer games.'

What older children should master
Older children should preferably take part in one team sport at school. 'It teaches them social skills and teamwork, improves their self-image and fosters bonds of friendship. The emphasis in curricula these days is on teamwork,' says Elise.

In grades one and two, besides the team sport that is usually seasonal, they can choose one or two activities to pursue throughout the year.

'Choose activities such as ballet, gymnastics, or karate. They 're good for balance, midline crossing, co-ordination and self-confidence, as well as improving muscle tone and enabling a child to sit still for longer and to concentrate better.'

What about music and art?

It's not necessary to enrol your child for formal music or art lessons before grade three or four. 'By that time, you and your child already know where her natural talents lie. If you force a child to do something at too young an age, you could spoil her natural talent or cause her to develop a dislike for that activity, 'warns Elise.

Johannesburg music teacher, Marlene Nel, agrees. 'If a child starts with me in grade three, she can usually master the basic techniques within a month or two. A younger child might sometimes struggle to master the same skills for up to two years.'

Elise points out that children and parents must select extramural activities for the appropriate reasons. 'Don't choose something just because their friends are doing it. And don't try to pursue your own dreams through your child. If your child has an exceptional talent in something, you should encourage it in a natural way.'

Petra Smit, a teacher, believes that it is important for children to get involved in school activities. 'There is usually

Throw-in-the-towel syndrome

What do you do if your child is determined to do an activity but gives up on it after only three lessons? Elise says you should insist that your child continue for at least one term, unless it genuinely causes great unhappiness and emotional problems.

'Your child will never learn to persevere if you allow her to chop and change. A child must understand that participation and performance demand hard work and dedication. Perhaps you could make it a rule that she won't be able to do any extra murals for a term if she gives up too easily.

'It's a good idea to allow your child to attend one or two classes first before you go out and buy all the equipment and clothes for a new activity and bind yourself contractually.'

Duty or pleasure?

Erika says parents and schools should take children's preferences into consideration when it comes to the choice of extramural activities. 'The brain integrates something that we enjoy far easier than something that we do not enjoy. If a child has fun, she will be more motivated to take part.

She will see it as a game rather than as a duty. She says parents and teachers must take into account a child's personality before they try to steer her in a particular direction. 'Some people are competitive, and others aren't. Forcing a child with a poor self-image into a highly competitive sport could have a life long negative effect on her emotional development. It is better to get such a child involved in activities that she can do well, in this way gaining self-confidence.

Something is better than nothing

Moms should try to convince their children, even clumsy and shy ones, to participate in at least one school activity. 'If a child does not take part in anything it will hinder her self-confidence even more and she will struggle to develop social skills,' says Elise Olivier. 'It's not about being the best, but about taking part and learning new skills. It's better that a child perform poorly than yearn to participate.

How to choose

If a child cannot sit still, has difficulty concentrating, and struggles with fine motor skills such as writing, it could indicate poor muscle tone. Swimming is a good exercise for strengthening the muscles of the upper body.
  • Balance problems can be improved with karate, gymnastics, ballet and cycling.
  • A lack of stability in the wrists and fingers can cause problems with activities such as cutting and writing, and playing the piano could help. If the problem is caused by weak muscles, swimming and gymnastics could help.
  • Poor concentration can be improved with ball games.
  • Impulsive children who struggle with self -control might benefit from doing
  • Art, pottery or music can help with emotional problems.
  • Aggressive children learn more self -control by playing wind instruments, which demands highly disciplined blowing techniques.
Is your child's schedule full? Do they have time to be just children?
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