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Is it okay to just let kids play? Sorting through the busyness of life with little ones

March 10, 2015

A few months ago, I rifled through the contents of my son’s homework folder. There were some graded assignments, some work yet to be done, as well as a flyer for a new science club being started at school.

“Hey,” I said. “Did you see this new science thing they’re doing at school?”

My son glanced over at it.

“Yeah,” was the response.

“Well, you like science, right? Want to do it?”

“Nah.”

“Oh. How come?”

“I do like science, but I just don’t really want to do any more stuff right now.”

I have to be honest, in that moment I did not like that answer. Now that I look back on it I wish I had just let it go, but I didn’t. I continued to press the issue, encouraging my son to go, to try it, to see what it was all about. Now I wish I had just listened to him and let it be.

After reflecting on this a bit, I think I may have figured a few things out. First of all, my son is an only child, and I have always been mindful of the fact that he is the only kid at home. Not only is he the only kid at home, but he’s also the only kid on our street! I have always encouraged (um, or pushed) him to be social, to be active, and to be busy. I have had this concern that he would be left out or left behind by others if he didn’t get involved in things. I have worried he would be lonely, bored, or just out of the loop when it comes to friends.

In a world where kids are starting to play sports competitively at age four or play an instrument before they can hardly speak, I’m not really surprised I got pulled into this feeling of needing to have a whirlwind of busyness swirling around us. Just to humor me, my son went to the first official meeting of the Science Club- and promptly told me when I picked him up that day that he would really rather just play. That statement was what really got me thinking.

He would really rather just play.

“Being busy” seems to be a popular mindset and phrase lately. I don’t know if people in general are more competitive these days, or if the world itself is getting more competitive and we’re all just trying to keep up. At 9 years old, my son has already played soccer for more than half of his life. I have thought about how playing soccer can impact his life (if he stays with it) as he moves on to middle school, high school and college. Maybe he’ll be done with it by then, but maybe he won’t. Because of the pace that teams, leagues, and families are moving at, there’s no time to stop, slow down or take a break. These kids are being trained to be the best they can be, and it seems like that with other activities as well.

Whether it is sports or music, civic organizations or art classes, the overloaded schedules, the crazy running around; It just seems like a lot. At least it seems like a lot to me (and apparently to my son, too). When I chat with other moms and dads at practices, many of them seem stressed and exhausted. I am starting to wonder, should we all be this busy? What about the families with three, four and five kids? How does anyone keep up with all of these demands? Sure, there are some people that thrive on a fast-paced, “packed with activities” kind of life. Just not us.

I decided that I needed to listen to my son better and respect his wishes to decline certain things. After all, when you consider the testing and the schoolwork, elementary school is not what it used to be. My son hasn’t had recess in two years, and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it’s coming back any time soon!

It’s really okay to just a let a kid play. It’s really okay for me not to micromanage my son’s social life. After all, he is at school all day interacting, learning, and spending time with friends. Those moments at home that I previously worried were a waste of time because he “wasn’t doing anything” are actually necessary for him to decompress after a long day.

My son’s statement about “really just wanting to play” said a lot to me. No matter what the rest of the world is doing, that doesn’t mean that we have to do it, too. Sometimes I do still have to bite my tongue, but I am working on it. My son seems more content with a more relaxed schedule, and I have to admit, I do, too. We aren’t going to be the family that “does it all”, and actually, that is just fine.

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