There are so many opportunities for children today to engage in activities that I have often found it hard as a parent to to decide whether a) I encourage them to try everything (after all I did bring them to a new country in order to have new experiences), b) limit them to only 1 or 2 ECAs (we do love our acronyms in DXB) and then c) what happens when every Monday afternoon comes round and they refuse to go to the class they begged me to sign them up for and has cost me a fortune for the terms fees – in advance! This may be laughingly described as a ‘first world problem’ but the reality is that as a parent we all want the ‘best’ for our children – but what exactly is this elusive ‘best’?
In a recent article in The Guardian, a Head teacher listed out his 10 tips for being a better parent and amongst these were: ensuring your child gets enough sleep and feeding them well. Seems pretty obvious and something we all aim for – however a child who is over scheduled and doesn’t get enough time to relax, be bored, be outside (always challenging in the summer heat of Dubai) will struggle with the basic bodily functions of eating and sleeping. Have you ever had such a busy day that even though you’re exhausted when you go to bed your brain just won’t switch off and allow you to go to sleep? Just yesterday I skipped a meal – not because I’m dieting but because I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with my workload and as a result my appetite just completely disappeared. Whilst this isn’t a problem for an adult on a one off basis, a child who is too tired or too over stimulated to sit and eat is going to be affected immediately and you, as mum, will see this in their behaviour.
So what does all this have to do with ECAs? I don’t believe there is an ‘ideal’ amount of activities for a child to do or not do, it depends on the child – some of us thrive on being busy and others of us like time on our own – this is exactly the same for children and figuring out what our child needs is an ongoing job for us as mums. When I worked with children who had issues with behaviour at school or home, one of the first things I did was talk to them about how they spent their time out of school, their sleeping and eating routine and what they did to relax/switch off, did they ever feel bored? The answers to these questions always gave me a real insight into the child or teen’s life and helped me to understand what they might be feeling and hence where the behaviour was coming from – this is one of the things that I teach parents to do on my workshops – look behind the behaviour.
This brings us neatly onto the question of what to do when our child doesn’t want to go to an activity – usually one that they were keen to sign up for in the first place. Put on your detective’s hat and see if you can figure out what the reason is – are they tired, hungry, overwhelmed, over stimulated, anxious for some reason, is the activity different to what they imagined, are they lonely there, is someone being unkind to them? If you aren’t usually present during the activity, would it be possible to pop in and watch the next session. Listen to what they tell you about it, empathise and put yourself in their shoes – would you feel the same as them when you think about it? Can you come to an agreement that they finish the term and then try something else or maybe reduce the number of activities, is there another session they could go to, on a different day, or maybe this is one of those times where they tried, you tried and it just wasn’t right for them so use it as a learning opportunity.
Written by: Joanne Jewell of Mindful Parenting www.mindfulparentinguae.net
Joanne is a Child, Adolescent and Family Therapist and Founder of Mindful Parenting UAE. She has 3 sons, has lived and worked in Dubai for 10 years and was raised in both the UK and SA. She has experienced life both as an expat child and expat mum which gives her an interesting perspective on living overseas.