Children need to be bored: Robin Barker on why parents overschedule their kids

Kinderling News & Features

Do our children need to do a million activities? Absolutely not, says parenting expert, Robin Barker.

Herself a mum and grandma, the author of Baby Love told Kinderling Conversation she’s watched the dynamic of family life change over several generations.

As a girl growing up in the 1950’s Robin said she did a “couple” of extracurricular activities, Brownies and elocution. “Isn’t that hysterical?” laughs Robin.

When Robin became a mum, her kids added on a few extra things,  including learning a musical instrument and drama; activities she still feels children will value in their adult lives.

Why do we overschedule our children?

Robin said there are three main reasons why well-meaning parents end up overscheduling their children.

  1. We want to give kids the opportunities we missed out on ourselves, we’re making up for what we didn’t experience. It’s tempting to project all of our missed hopes and dreams onto them.
  2. There’s a lot more money to go around now for many families, so parents can afford to do more of this (plus certain activities are incorporated into schools and preschools, like learning a musical instrument, learning languages and drama).
  3. Many parents harbour a secret thought that maybe their child has a gift lying dormant, whether it’s music, sport, or something else. Robin hands the truth over – “Most of the time, it isn’t. Ian Thorpe only comes around so often. Cate Blanchett only comes along every so often.”

“If we’re being honest, many parents harbour these little thoughts that this might be turning into something wonderful for my child.”

Listen to Robin on Kinderling Conversation:

“It’s understandable. The trick is to not have it overwhelming the child, and taking over family life, [know] where to draw the line,” Robin says.

I think things like languages, I came from a generation where we really didn’t become fluent in a second language, and I think that’s very tempting for parents to want their children to have a second language.

Make sure the activity fits your family life

The aim is to offer them a few things - that are affordable, that fit in with your time - and to see what happens.

Remember: Very few children know what kinds of activities they’d enjoy or be good at. It’s up to you as the parent to make the decision.

“At the very best, it gives them a lifelong interest in something that they can appreciate through their lives and I think that’s what we’re aiming for,” said Robin. “The main thing about all of this is to keep a balance and keep a lid on it.” 

Remember: Children need to be bored

“Children don’t react well to being rushed from here to there all over the place. They do need to be bored,” said Robin.

“If they’re constantly rushed form here to there to somewhere else, they never really learn how not to be bored. They need to learn how to use their own imagination and just a bit of common sense, really.”