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Teaching Your Child How to Manage Busyness

Getting a grip on schedules and activities is a gift that will never lose its value.

by Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Teaching your child how to get a grip on schedules and activities is a gift that will never lose its value. I (Barbara) have thought often about the story of how God spoke to young Samuel in the Old Testament. What impresses me is that this young boy knew it was God. I wonder how many of our children would be able to hear God calling their names through all the noise in the background?

Encourage—insist—that your child spend time regularly just being still. Not watching television or doing computer games, but reading, listening to soft music, or pursuing calm hobbies. This environment is also necessary for teaching your child how to have a daily time of prayer and Scripture reading.

A child at this age, who is still growing physically, needs sleep. One of our friends, whose daughter is 13, noticed that she was staying up later and later at night to finish her homework. Her parents were pleased that she was committed to her schoolwork, but they were concerned that she wasn’t getting enough sleep. She wasn’t goofing off; it just took a lot of time to practice the piano and basketball, do chores, and then finish schoolwork. She needed to be in bed by about 9:30, but all of these demands on her time were keeping her up until as late as 10:30. The parents directed their daughter to cut back on one of her commitments in order to get the rest she needed.

The following are core convictions that we are training our children to embrace in managing busyness.

Child’s Conviction 1: I will learn the value of quiet and rest.

A few years ago we decided to make the Sabbath a day of rest in our family. We learned that slowing everybody down and changing the routine is not easy. We try to make sure our children get their schoolwork done by Saturday night so that they don’t have long assignments to do on Sunday. We do our best not to shop on Sunday. If they want to listen to music, it has to be Christian. And we try to limit phone calls to family only.

Sunday afternoon at our place is pretty quiet. Lots of naps, reading, and recreation—relationship building. There’s more we could do to make the Sabbath restful, but even these simple things help.

Related to these values of quiet and rest is the surprising side benefit of grounding—showing your child the benefits of lowering stress. We have found grounding to be a good disciplinary measure for preadolescents and young teens, because it inflicts the pain of separation from peers and enjoyable social activities. And we have been surprised on many occasions how this punishment—which can seem to the child like a life sentence of medieval torture—turns out to be something of a vacation from a too-demanding schedule and even from peer pressure.

After the initial moaning and groaning subsides, the child seems to relax and actually enjoys hanging out at home and catching up on family time. Of course, you probably will not get this message verbally from the child, but you can see it in his attitude.

Child’s Conviction 2: I will recognize the value of spending adequate time with my parents, brothers, and sisters.

In our family there is one value that ranks above nearly all others: Family has priority.

This value has done more than any other to control busyness in our home. Ever since our children were small, they have heard us say over and over, “We are always going to discriminate in favor of our family.”

This value does not remove conflict, and it can create significant pain when you have to say no to a child. But it is a chunk of granite to stand on when the winds of schedule insanity start to blow.

One Christmas one of our teenage daughters misunderstood what day the family would leave to visit my mother. On this weekend our daughter had a full slate of parties, concerts, caroling—all that great holiday fun. We had to let her know she was going to miss all of it because we were traveling out of town.

We understood why she got upset and blew a gasket. “Why do we have to go away on a weekend when I have all these opportunities?” she said with tears.

“Because it’s Christmas, honey,” we said. “That’s just life. We wouldn’t be going to see Grandma if it wasn’t Christmas, and you wouldn’t be having all these fun things to do if it wasn’t Christmas. But you know we’re going to choose family over friends and all these activities.”

We really did feel her anguish, but even as she was still so angry she wanted to kick the cat, we were proud to hear her say: “I know. I agree. My family is a priority.”

Although a preadolescent will increasingly want to do more things on his own, don’t totally surrender the opportunity to do some things together—one on one or as a family.

Try to find at least one activity you and your child enjoy doing together. During their adolescent years, I (Dennis) introduced hunting to the boys and now the girls. This has provided many memorable experiences over the years. And there’s no reason we won’t keep enjoying this shared activity long after the children have left our nest.

Child’s Conviction 3: I will not be involved in an activity just because everyone else is, but because it is something I enjoy and it helps me grow.

After some experimentation, we have learned that it’s best to support the child’s strengths with ongoing involvement in just one or two activities. Two of our girls use their gymnastic ability in cheerleading, while our third daughter develops her musical talents with piano lessons and involvement in band. We then limit or say no to involvement in other activities, with the exception that during the spring two of our girls play softball for a couple of months.

As a parent, you also need to monitor part-time jobs closely. Learning how to work for someone other than Mom or Dad is a positive thing for a young person. Many preadolescents first have such a work experience as babysitters or lawn cutters. Later they often move on to some type of retail or fast-food environment.

But how busy should teenagers become with work? One of our mistakes may have been letting some of our children work too many hours. We suggest carefully monitoring anything above 10 hours a week. More than that, and they will probably feel a lot of stress.

In the activities you do choose for your children, take advantage of opportunities to build character. You can teach compelling life lessons through these experiences–for instance, the importance of commitment and loyalty. Too often among adults and children there is a tendency to sign up for some activity but then later drop out. Don’t allow your preadolescent or teen to do this unless he is encountering a serious difficulty, such as an abusive coach or a health-threatening situation. Use the opportunity to show him how he needs to follow through on the commitment made to others.

Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright © 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

Next Steps

1. Read more articles on dealing with busyness in the family

2.  Speaker and author Tim Kimmel offers help to frazzled families in his FamilyLife Today series, “Little House on the Freeway.” 

3.  If you’re feeling stressed from a busy lifestyle, you probably need to get away with your spouse for refreshment and refueling.  Check out FamilyLife’s marriage events:  the Weekend to Remember® getaway, the I Still Do™ one-day event, and The Art of Marriage® video series.

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