Sara Dimerman

Sara Dimerman is a psychologist and provides counselling to individuals, couples and families. She is one of North America's most trusted parenting and relationship experts and the author of three books: Am I a Normal Parent?, Character is The Key and How Can I Be Your Lover When I'm Too Busy Being Your Mother?: The Answer to Becoming Partners Again. Learn more or listen to advice from Sara and her colleagues by searching for 'helpmesara' podcasts on iTunes or visiting Follow Sara on Twitter @helpmesara.
Sara Dimerman
November 10, 2014
Sara Dimerman
How Many Extracurriculars Are Too Many?
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When my children were younger, I was as excited as they were when a school break came around—and it wasn’t just the reprieve from having to think up creative school lunches that appealed. For me, it was a break from extra curricular activities. No more dance on Wednesdays, yoga on Thursdays and swimming on Fridays—at least for a couple of weeks anyway.  After talking to other parents however, I knew that my schedule didn’t even compare to some whose kids were involved in competitive dance or in a hockey league. Multiply that by two or three children and both parents and kids are often left feeling exhausted.

I’ve always encouraged parents not to enroll their children in more than two extra curricular activities per week. Religious school may be a third, depending on the family’s inclination and the age of the child. When my children were preschoolers, I enrolled them in more. (Having two children born eight years apart certainly had its advantages). For instance, when my second was born, my first was already in grade two. I had more time at my disposal to explore different programs. As she got a little older, I noticed that she liked to climb and move in her physical space. So, we checked out gymnastics and found that she had a real aptitude for it. When she entered grade one, we put gymnastics on the back burner and she enrolled in dance. Swimming, the second extra curricular, I made mandatory since I considered it an essential life skill. The following year I let her choose between dance and gym (swim continued) and we added religious school into the mix.  In short, my recommendation is for parents to explore as much as time and energy allows before their child goes into grade one. After that, it’s best to refine the choices according to your child’s interests or aptitude. Allow them to choose one activity each year, maybe alternating for a couple of years until they settle on one. A second choice, as I said, may be yours—an essential skill such as swimming, for example. 

Children, like adults, can feel overwhelmed from always being on the run. A sandwich for dinner in the car three nights a week is not ideal. As well, by occupying our children every waking moment, we don’t teach them the value and importance of enjoying their own company during quiet moments. Learning how to sit still, process and reflect on what is going on around them and developing patience are just some of the benefits of not always being on the run. It’s true that keeping them busy does sometimes keep them out of trouble, but sometimes to the detriment of the family.

Instead of adding another activity to an already full plate, consider scheduling ‘family time’ instead. Especially in families where parents are working full time, most children prefer just spending quality time with their parents when they get home from work. This may include sitting down to eat dinner as a family at least a couple of times a week, without feeling that it’s tightly squeezed between getting home from school and work and rushing out to another activity. It may also include putting one night a week aside to play board games or even to watch a mutually enjoyed show on television together. Spending time together as a family might include going tobogganing on a hill near your house after dinner, raking leaves (and then jumping into the piles), visiting grandparents or volunteering.  All of this together time will create wonderful memories and encourage bonding as a family.

The bottom line is that there’s as much to be learned and gained from spending time with one another as there is from learning or developing a new skill. So, don’t feel guilty about not keeping up with the Jones’s. Instead, de-stress by taking some of the load off your plate and hanging out with the people you love.

Image of tired child from Shutterstock.

Comments | Tagged under activities, school, stress
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how to deliver bad news
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Each month, Paul and Carol Mott, the hosts of a morning radio show and force behind invite me on to the show as their resident Psychologist to dispense advice to their listeners. However, a couple of weeks ago, Carol asked for advice herself. She shared that she and Paul were taking care of their grand dog while their daughter and her boyfriend were away on a cruise. The day before the couple were due to return from their trip, the little dog, who was adored by all, deviated from her regular route as they made their way from the barn where their horses are housed. Surprised not to find her waiting for them as usual by the door to their home, they called her name and began searching. When they heard the screech of tires, their hearts leapt into their throats as they realized that the unthinkable had taken place.

Whether you’re an animal lover or not, you can imagine the devastation that they felt. Not only had they lost a beloved pet, they felt the heavy responsibility and guilt of this happening in their care and the sheer enormity of having to share this shocking news with their daughter and her boyfriend. To complicate matters further, Carol was thinking that her daughter might have become engaged on this trip and was likely to return eager to share the exciting news with them. They were sickened at the thought of robbing any joy from their announcement.

I reassured her that they had made the right decision not to share the news with their daughter and her boyfriend while they were gone. Helping them figure out how to share the news was much less straightforward. Ultimately, I said that there was really nothing they could do to avoid the shock and anguish the couple would feel but that I could offer some ideas on how to present the news in a comforting manner.

I suggested that rather than leading up to what had happened, and thereby creating even more anxiety as the couple waited for what they suspected was bad news, that they share it straightforwardly and without too much detail—something like (while holding their daughter’s hands) ‘I’m so sorry sweetie, Harley ran into the road and was killed.’ At first, the words were difficult for the couple to process. Shock is a normal reaction when awful news is given. Slowly, as they talked further, Carol and Paul were able to answer their questions in a gentle manner and reassured them that their beloved dog had not suffered at the end.

I reflected on this story about delivering shocking news as I recalled the times that I have been with family members when they too received shocking news from medical professionals—and wondered how those same doctors might deliver the same news to a family member. Would they take the person’s hand in theirs as they softened the news with care and empathy? Would they choose their words more carefully than what I have heard?  Most recently, someone close to me was told that the tumours that the doctor saw looked ‘nasty’ and ‘serious’. This was even before a proper biopsy had taken place. And even then, does a patient really need adjectives to describe tumours—the mere mention of which is frightening enough?

Hearing shocking news is always rough, but I advise not to underestimate the huge difference they way the information is relayed can make.

Image of bad news from Shutterstock.

Comments | Tagged under advice, solutions
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