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Debate Club: Are Multiple Extracurricular Activities Good or Bad For Kids?

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Too Many Extracurricular Activities Are Bad For Our Kids

By Sandi Schwartz

When was the last time your children came home from school and just played freely in the backyard? I’m guessing that sounds like a foreign concept. You’re probably asking, “What about taking them to dance class, art school, swim lessons, soccer practice, religious school, and that tutoring session just last week alone?” 

The over-scheduled childhood culture

Millions of children in the United States feel overwhelmed and pressured because of their over-scheduled lives. In a Psychology Today article, Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of “The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap,” explains how enrolling children in too many activities is a huge problem. Parents feel like they aren’t doing a good job if they don’t sign their children up for a variety of activities exposing them to sports, culture, religion, and everything else under the sun starting at a young age. But then the children are under so much pressure to compete with their peers and achieve “success.”

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I learned my lesson the hard way – but luckily early enough before a major problem developed. When my son was in first grade, I signed him up for activities every day after school. I specifically remember that he had an activity on Monday and how much stress that caused him because he received his packet of homework for the entire week that day. There were many tears during that time because he wasn’t able to start his homework until close to dinner; he worried that he wouldn’t have enough time to complete his work. We decided then that it was a good idea to keep Monday clear to ease into the school week and to minimize his activities overall.

What do we sacrifice when we overschedule our children?

Yes, we want our kids to socialize and learn new skills. However, when we over-book them, they suffer. Here are just three aspects of our children’s lives that get pushed aside when we overschedule their days.

Health

Stress and anxiety play a big role in our children’s lives today. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), it’s estimated that 1 in 8 children suffers from an anxiety disorder. More worrisome, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25 percent of teens ages 13-18 will experience some form of anxiety. 

Much of this stress is because children are not getting enough down time. They’re being carted around from one activity to another, unable to calm their mind and simply play. Peter Gray, author of the book “Free to Learn,” ties this lack of free play to the increase in children suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.

Creativity

Being creative involves having the time to explore and grow. When we’re creative, we become so absorbed in our work that we reach a meditative state of flow. How will our children have the chance to be creative if they are constantly rushing between structured activities?

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a developmental and clinical psychologist, believes that “…children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no ‘nothing time.’ They have no time to call on their own resources and be creative. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen. In our efforts to produce Renaissance children who are competitive in all areas, we squelch creativity.”

Self-awareness

Children need time in their day to simply be themselves. This allows them to get in touch with their emotions and to ultimately figure out who they are and what they want to become. They need calm, quiet moments for mindfulness and introspection. They also need time to explore topics in depth without time constraints, curriculum, and scores. When children are involved in too many different activities, they sacrifice breadth for depth and miss out on opportunities for authentic self-discovery.

How to navigate our children’s schedules

In the end, it’s all about balance. As parents, we need to learn what our children can handle and what they want – not what we think is best for their college applications. This does not mean you need to take your children out of all their activities. Try limiting the amount of time spent in extracurricular activities and choosing them wisely. For example, we decided that baseball was not going to work for my son because it required a commitment of three days per week. We also just pulled my daughter out of a wonderful dance studio to attend dance at her school because it alleviates unnecessary travel time.

The bottom line: keep tabs on what makes your children happy and be sure they’re getting plenty of unscheduled down time.

Multiple Extracurricular Activities are Good for Our Kids

By Cheryl Maguire

“I’m bored,” my 11-year-old daughter grumbled as she collapsed on to the couch. It was a rare unscheduled moment in her life. I cringed as I recalled what can occur when she has a spontaneous second. At the age of three, I assumed she was quietly playing with her toys only to discover the entire wall was covered with a new crayon mural. We are both happier now that she’s enrolled in art classes.

She prefers being busy which is why she partook in six different extracurricular activities this past spring. Her interests ranged from sign language class to swim team. Besides avoiding boredom (and messes) there are many benefits to having scheduled activities for your child. Research by the National Center for Education Statistics states that students who participated in after-school activities had better attendance, higher levels of achievement, and aspirations to higher levels of education.

Better academic performance

Even though my daughter was in six different clubs or sports, she received all A’s in her academic classes. By participating in extracurricular activities, a child is able to learn new skills which can then be applied to the school setting. For example my daughter was in the garden club and she used the information she learned about plants in her science class. Sports such as basketball, baseball, and football use statistics, addition and subtraction, probability, and geometry which can be applied to math class.

A number of research studies found students who participate in extracurricular activities perform better in school. Reeves studied data at Woodstock High School in Woodstock, Illinois and found students who were in three or four extracurricular activities during the year had dramatically better grades than those who participated in no extracurricular activities. Another study, this one by the College Board, found that high school extracurricular participation is correlated with higher SAT scores; SAT math by 45 points and SAT verbal scores by 53 points.

Adaptability

If a child is participating in more than one activity, they will also experience more than one coach or teacher who will have different rules and expectations. They’ll have the opportunity to meet kids with a range of personalities and interests. These interactions will teach a child how to be adaptable to multiple people and situations.

Salvortore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba’s training guide, “Resilience at Work,” discusses the importance of being adaptable. The authors found that when adaptable people lost their jobs, they thrived due to their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Being adaptable is a skill that will benefit your in school and well beyond graduation. 

Better social skills

Children will gain social skills both from the person in charge of the activity or sport and by interacting with their peers. They also have the opportunity to learn about teamwork by playing a sport or participating in a group effort like the class musical. 

In my daughter’s book club includes social time after their discussion of the assigned book. Much like a lot of grown-ups I know, even when she hasn’t read the book, she still wants to go to the club because she loves the social interaction with her peers.

Less screen time

According to Common Sense Media, the average teen spend over nine hours a day playing video games or watching TV. If children are participating in after-school activities they will have way less time to do either of those things.

Decreased risk of obesity

Obesity affects about 12.7 million children and adolescents – a figure that has remained steady for the past decade.

Participating in an active after-school activity, like a sports team, is one obvious way to help lower your child’s risk of obesity.

Use your judgement

Sometimes, even for my daughter, you can have too many activities. I’m always cognizant of her energy level. If she needs to skip an activity once in a while, I let her. Or when I noticed she wasn’t enthusiastic about going to gymnastics anymore, we both decided it would be best not to sign up for the next session. Most importantly, you want to make sure your child is happy and definitely not bored.

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We've all been there. You first hear those cries that don't sound like any other cries and immediately know what's happening. It's like our mama hearts know when our little ones need us the most. Having little ones feeling under the weather is hard. They can't tell you exactly how they feel. You can't explain to them that they'll feel better soon, and all there is for everyone to do is to take it easy and stay cuddled inside until you can get them to the doctor.

The issue, by this point, is that my son is old enough to know what's coming when we open the medicine cabinet, so giving him something for his throat ends up being like a wrestling match without the fun and giggles. My son especially likes spitting out anything as a way to protest how he's generally feeling, so we both end up covered in sticky syrup feeling defeated. Because, seriously, who thought that using a syringe or pipette to squirt out gooey liquid down an unwilling toddler's mouth was a good idea? (Probably not a parent.)

That's why when I found out there was an easier and more fun way to make these dreaded sick days better, I was all about it.

Enter: Lolleez.

Lolleez are organic throat soothing pops for kids—and adults!—that are made with organic ingredients that you can pronounce and understand like honey and natural fruit pectin. Plus, they're non-GMO as well as gluten, dairy and nut-free i.e. worry-free for all kinds of kiddos. The pops help soothe sore throats while acting like a treat for when kids are feeling under the weather. I also appreciate that the pops are actually flat and on a stick, as opposed to a lozenge or round ball lollipop. They were also created by a mom, which makes me feel a million times more confident about them since I know she knows exactly how hard sick days with a little one can be.

loleez

When I introduced my son to Lolleez pops, everything changed. Suddenly the battle to get him to take something to feel better wasn't... well, a battle. In the few times he's been sick since, he's been more than happy to pop a Lolleez, and I've been more than grateful that soothing him is now as easy as peeling open a wrapper. And, since they come in watermelon, strawberry and orange mango—strawberry is the favorite in this household—he never gets bored of getting a soothing lolly.

Also, they're easy to find—you can get them at stores like Target, CVS and online so I never worry that I'll be caught without in a pinch. After the sick days have run their course and my son starts feeling better, there's nothing like seeing that glow in his eyes come back and have him greet me with a big smile when I come into his room in the morning, ready for the day.

While our littles not feeling well is inevitable, as a mama, I'll do anything to make my child feel better, and I'm so thankful for products that make it just a little easier for the both of us. So here's to enjoying the snuggles that come with sick days, while also looking forward to the giggles that come after them.

This article was sponsored by Lolleez. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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I tried to numb the stress and emotions of being a new mom with weed and booze. I didn't know how to face it all. I had so much grief, rage and regret stuffed down, so much heaviness, guilt and shame I was lugging around.

I would live my days looking forward to when I could drink or smoke to take the edge off, to finally relax, get rid of the anxiety, find fun in the endless playing with baby toys and get through the fits of crying and sleepless nights.

What I didn't realize until it was almost too late was that all that self-medicating with my substance addictions was actually making my issues worse.

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Even though the tequila or wine or gin would take the edge off at the moment, it led to more depression.

Even though the marijuana in the middle of the day would take the intensity of my anxiety down a few notches, it led to more anxiety because it suppressed my real emotions.

And all of it made me more exhausted than I already was from the sleep-deprived reality of early motherhood. After a few months, I found myself in a deeply engrained cycle of weed, alcohol and coffee to keep it all going which led to severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

Eventually, it all broke down.

The panic attacks got too frequent and extreme. My self-loathing soared to unbearable, suicidal levels. The alcohol and marijuana no longer did much to suppress anything. The can of worms was open and either I had to face it, get some help and get sober, or lose my mind or life.

It didn't get better overnight. I stopped and started again a few times before I found my way to true sobriety. It was a process.

I found a great therapist that helped me understand my cycle of suppressing feelings with substances and helped me to look underneath the addiction, anxiety and depression to understand what I was actually feeling. I found anger, rage, grief, trauma, shame, resentment, sadness and so much more. I had to actually look at, allow and feel the feelings in order to get through the need to cover them up with addictions.

I also learned mindfulness meditation, which was one of my biggest saviors. I learned how to be with all the anxiety—the tracking, planning, scheduling, worries, endless lists, to-dos and thought loops that come with being a parent. Almost everything I was trying to do with alcohol and pot, meditation did better and without side effects. Then I started going to recovery meetings and quit for real.

Parenting got so much better after I got sober. Not right away though. At first, I hit a serious period of boredom. Life with a baby without alcohol or marijuana seemed so bland to me. The stark reality of the mundane was hard. But over time I learned to find enjoyment without any substances.

There's no more cracking open a bottle of wine, sipping it to relax while I cook dinner. There's no more stepping away to slyly hit my vape pen, returning with bleary eyes and a goofy smile. There's just me, my daughter, my husband and more of myself—breathing, playing, bathing, laughing, dancing, singing, going to bed, waking up early and doing it all again.

Now that I'm sober, I don't have any panic attacks at all. I am way less anxious in general, and when I do feel anxiety I know how to work with it. Depression is almost non-existent, and even though I still feel tired often, I am not utterly exhausted. It's manageable, and I know how to recharge myself.

I'm a better mom now, too. I am more present, patient and kind. I am able to process my emotions faster. I am in a better mood more often. I have more energy. I enjoy our time together and show my love for her more. I am more responsible and available.

I'm not trying to escape anymore. I'm here.

One of my favorite things to do now as the sun sets and I cook dinner is to crack open an audiobook and savor that sweet time in the kitchen. My husband often bathes my daughter and gets her ready for bed and I have that time to myself, listening to something interesting, enjoying the smells and textures of the food, the rhythm of the chopping and my own breath.

I don't need alcohol or drugs to endure parenthood, to get through it, to cope with it, to escape from it. This is my life, after all, and it will be for a very long time.

Instead of using some external things to change how I feel about it, I let myself actually feel my feelings about it. I talk about it. I write about it. I dance about it. I sing about it. I work on it in therapy. I communicate authentically with my husband and other mothers.

Learning how to truly relax and deal with my emotions instead of faking it with wine or weed was the most important thing I ever did for myself as a human and parent. I no longer have to make myself go numb to make it through the days. I get to give my daughter my full attention, love and a childhood she truly deserves—one with a genuinely present, calm and sober mother.

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Life

The news cycle moves so quickly that the good news stories can speed through your feed quicker than you can see them. Yes, stories like Meghan Markle admitting that she's not okay or the Johnson's baby powder recall are important, but so are the good or funny stories happening to non-royal women every day.

It's important to keep up with the news, but it's also important to smile when we can. Luckily we track the best viral stories for you every week.

Here are the viral stories that made us smile:

Identical twin nurses go viral after they delivered identical twin babies together

Identical twins Tori Howard and Tara Drinkard both work at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center in Georgia— Drinkard in the labor and delivery unit, Howard in the neonatal intensive care unit. They hadn't worked together on a delivery, but they knew it would happen eventually. They just probably didn't predict that the first time they'd team up would be to deliver another set of identical twin girls.

Brannan and Rebecca Williams couldn't believe they had another set of identical twins in the room when they welcomed their daughters on September 25.

"We found out 10 minutes before Rebecca was wheeled into the OR for an emergency C-section," Brannan Williams told Today Parents. "I couldn't believe it. What are the chances? It's crazy."

The elder set of twins was just as surprised at this turn of events. "We knew we'd cross paths in the delivery room eventually," Howard writes to Today Parents. "But we never imagined that our first experience would be with twins girls!"

As a mother of twins, I know how overwhelming it can be to welcome two babies on the same day, but Brannan and Rebecca definitely had an advantage thanks to their experience with Tori and Tara. Brannan and Rebecca's daughters, Emma and Addison, were born at 32 weeks and spent three weeks in the NICU, so the parents presumably spent a bit of time with the nurses. They plan to keep in touch as well.

"They have given us so much good advice," the parents tell Today Parents. "The biggest thing they told us is to remember that the girls are individuals and even though they look alike, that doesn't make them the same person."

This viral #boymom is finally a #girlmom after 11 births 

Have you ever noticed how some families seem to produce way more of one sex than the other? Well, you've probably never seen anything quite like this. Alexis Brett, a mama from London, had 10 (yes, 10!) boys in a row. How crazy is that? But the streak was recently broken—Brett just welcomed her first daughter.

According to The Daily Mail, Brett and her husband welcomed their first son when she was 22 years old. Over the next 15 years, the mama gave birth to nine more sons, making them the first known British couple to have 10 sons in a row.

Brett just gave birth to her 11th child on August 2...and to her astonishment, it was a little girl.

"We're over the moon. I'd been expecting to hear we were having another boy but when I found out it was a girl, my face was a picture. I was shocked but delighted. Now she's here with us, it's a fantastic feeling," the mother tells The Daily Mail. "Curiosity did get the better of us [and we decided to learn the baby's sex before the birth]. When the results came in the post, [our son] opened the envelope because I was too nervous. When we realised it was a girl, we were amazed. It sounds silly because it's a 50:50 chance, but we were surprised anyway."

Brett named her daughter Cameron after actress Cameron Diaz. Cameron joins siblings Campbell, 17, Harrison, 16, Corey, 14, Lachlan, 11, Brodie, nine, Brahn, eight, Hunter, six, Mack, five, Blake, three, and Rothagaidh, two.

It appears the couple's first daughter will be their last child.

"No more! I remember saying that last time, but this time I absolutely mean it. I love my family as it is now...We've been asked a lot whether we've had so many children because we were hoping for that elusive girl. But I can honestly answer no. Cameron wasn't planned, but I was happy all the same, and if another boy had been on the way it wouldn't have bothered me," says Brett. "I'm an only child myself and I'd never planned to have a large family, but now that I do, I love it. I always joked I wouldn't have a clue what to do with a girl anyway but that's all changed now, of course, and I have to admit that we're having a lot of fun buying pink things for the first time."

This mama's viral 'ghost story' is too 😆

It's not Halloween yet but mom Maritza Elizabeth is going viral for her own hilarious ghost story.

She posted a spooky photo of her baby monitor on Facebook. It shows one of her kids in their crib and through the black and white of the baby monitor, it clearly looks like there is another baby in their crib with her son. It would be startling to any parent, especially in October.

"So last night I was positive there was a ghost baby in the bed with my son," she captioned her pic, which has now been shared more than 300,000 times.

"I was so freaked out, I barely slept. I even tried creeping in there with a flashlight while my son was sleeping. Well, this morning I go to investigate a bit further. It turns out my husband just forgot to put the mattress protector on when he changed the sheets 😂😂 I could kill him."

We're so glad Maritza solved the mystery of the ghost baby (without waking up her sleeping son).

This mama gave birth during a tornado and her story is going viral 

As a tornado hit Rowlett, Texas a group of women took shelter in a laundry room. As sirens wailed outside, and by candlelight, a mother delivered her baby.

The Bump Birthing Center shared this story to its Facebook page, captioning a photo of the mother and baby: "Baby girl born in our laundry room with the tornado sirens going off, a tornado on the ground half a mile away, and no electricity.....by candle light!! Welcome to the world beauty!"

The chief midwife and owner of The Bump Birthing Center, Kasie McElhaney, told the New York Daily News: "She had just started pushing when the power went out and the sirens went off, and we had to shuffle to the laundry room.

"It's the only room in the center that has no windows, and it's centrally located. So that's where we went. One wall is brick—it's probably not even big enough for a twin-sized bed. But we made it work."

They made it work and now the photographic evidence is making the rounds on the internet, with many commenters suggesting weather-related names for this baby girl. Her parents (who are protecting their own privacy as well as her own) are not releasing their last name or their baby girl's first. But they will say it isn't Stormy.

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It was never my goal to be a mama and a wife. As a teenager, I was completely fine with my decision not to have children. When someone would ask me how many children I wanted, my response would always be none. In my 20's, I traveled the world and focused on building my career. A family of my own was far from my mind. And I was okay with that. Then I hit 30 and something inside me changed.

I'm not sure what exactly changed. Or why it changed. But I started to long for a family of my own.

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Then as if my heart's desire had been answered I met him. We fell in love. And within a few years, I was married to this incredible man. Then we received the best news we could have hoped for. I was pregnant—with a baby boy. The family I had longed for was right here in front of me. I had become this child's mama.

Just like that my whole life's focus changed.

My mind wasn't on my career progression or where in the world I was going to explore next. It was focused on this little human. This little human, who was safely cradled in my arms. This little human who now relied on me to provide him with care, with comfort, with love.

I became defined by my motherhood. And that was okay.

Now I won't lie, as my son grew and we welcomed our second child to our family, there were moments of exhaustion. Moments of frustration. Moments of tears. Moments where I desperately needed some me time.

But here is the truth. Yes, right now I am defined by motherhood. And that's okay. I spent many years longing to be here at this moment. To have my family. To be my children's mama.

I know this is a finite period in my life. So I am choosing to embrace it. I am choosing to find joy in my motherhood journey.

I know my children need me now in a way they won't ever again. And I don't want to miss out on all the beautiful moments right here in front of me.

You see, one day they won't need me to rock them in my arms or lay with them every night till they fall asleep.

One day they won't need me to pick them up and carry them everywhere. In fact, one day they will be too big for me to do that even if I wanted to.

One day they won't need to help them get dressed and put on their shoes.

One day they won't ask me to sing them that song for the 10th time.

One day they won't need me to do all the things for them as they do now.

You see, right now my children are only little. Right now they need me. Right now they choose me.

I am their safe place. I am their comfort. I am honored to be the one that they turn to. I am honored to be the one they call home.

That is why, first and foremost, I am defined by my motherhood. And that is more than okay with me.

This article was previously published here.

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Life

Your to-do list is kind of under control. The kitchen is mostly clean. You just finished that big work project and to celebrate, you scheduled a lunch out with the girls tomorrow while your little one is at school. As you rest your head on the pillow you think to yourself, “Okay! I might actually sorta-kinda have this whole thing under control!"

And then you hear it from down the hallway: cough cough.

Your eyes shoot open. No. It's fine, just a little tickle in her throat. She's fine.

Cough cough cough.

Nope, it's fine. If I lay here and don't move nothing will be...

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“MOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYYYYYY I don't feeeeeeel goooooooood."

Sigh.

You break out the humidifier, the Tylenol and the snuggles. And then comes the inevitable question—can they go to school tomorrow? It's not an easy question to answer, for sure.

On the one hand, kids are basically walking booger factories at all times—if we kept them home for every sneeze and cough they'd never go to school. On the other hand, we don't want to put our kids in a situation where they could get sicker—or make other kids sick.

When in doubt, you should always give your pediatrician a call for guidance. Most schools have policies on it as well.

But as a general rule of thumb, here's what to know when your child isn't feeling well:

On fevers

The most clear cut of all symptoms are fevers—if they have a fever, they stay home. A fever is any temperature of 100.4 Fahrenheit or greater. A child needs to be fever-free for a full 24-hours before they can return to school.

Note: If your newborn has a fever she needs medical attention right away. It could be an emergency.

On stuffy noses and coughs

A mildly stuffy nose, or an occasional cough isn't enough to warrant a day off from school. But if the mucus is really thick and/or the cough is frequent, loud, or just sounds “gross," it's probably best to keep her home.

Coughs can linger for a long time in children, but if it persists for several days, or she has a fever with it, give your doctor a call. If the cough sounds like a seal barking, and certainly if she is having any trouble breathing, get medical attention right away.

On tummy troubles

Or as my daughter's preschool teacher called it, “intestinal mischief." If your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, they should stay home (and should stay home for 24 hours after the last incident). Make sure everyone at home washes their hands really well, as stomach bugs tend to be very contagious.

Remember to encourage your child to drink lots of fluids. If they aren't drinking, call your doctor right away.

On skin issues

This can be tricky—between marker explosions, dry skin and rashes, it seems like my kids' skin looks different every day. Rashes are almost impossible to diagnose over the phone, so if you are concerned, they'll need to be evaluated by their doctor to help determine the cause (and contagiousness) of the rash.

If you suspect your child has lice, they should stay home as well—and you'll probably have to give the school a call so they can ANONYMOUSLY alert the other parents.

Along the same lines is the dreaded conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Usually your child (or lucky you) will wake up with their eyelids crusted shut, or they'll have a very pink eye with lots of goop (sorry—but we're all moms here, we can handle the eye goop convo right?)

This is highly contagious, so they should for sure stay home from school. Depending on if it's viral or bacterial, you doctor may prescribe medicine that clears it up quickly.

On pain

This one is tough—kids often complain about various boo-boos, especially when it means that they get a Frozen Bandaid out of the deal. If they complain of pain persistently, if the pain prevents them from playing, and of course if you witness a bad injury, keep them home and get medical help right away.

Remember that you know your child best. Ultimately, you get to make the decision. Your pediatrician will be there to guide you, and one day, ONE DAY, you really will get that whole to-do list tackled... we think?

You've got this.

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