Cancel the baby yoga, let your kids chill out

Is it really necessary to sign our children up to classes from day one?

What's the rush? Emily Hourican with her daughter B at home in Stillorgan. Photo by Ronan Lang

Kathy Donaghy

Most mothers I know have done it. Signed up for the latest baby class because they feel if they don't their child will somehow miss out.

I know when my first child came along I signed us up for everything from baby yoga and baby massage to toddler music classes in the hope these would all aid his development.

My eureka moment happened during yet another Saturday afternoon music class I had signed my toddler and I up to. My two-year-old son just wanted to bolt and, surrounded by parents throwing squares of material in the air (as part of the class), I asked myself what the hell were we doing there? He certainly wasn't enjoying it. And I know I wasn't.

While many parents are busy rushing around ferrying their children to multiple activities, others are starting their own quiet revolution by ditching the schedule and just spending time with their children.

Carl Honoré, the author of Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting is credited with the relatively new phenomenon of "slow parenting".

For him, slow parenting is about bringing balance into the home. He says that while children need to strive and struggle to stretch themselves, childhood should not be a race.

In a recent interview with The New York Times he says: "Slow parents give their children plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms. They keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together.

"They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy. Slow parenting means allowing our children to work out who they are rather than what we want them to be."

Christina Crouch from Donegal, who is a mother of four ranging in ages from nine to five months, says she and her husband made a conscious decision that especially in the early years of their children's lives they would not schedule activities.

She says the idea is that her children are able to play and are able to explore their own environment on their own terms rather than have a schedule put on their day with the rules and regulations that go with it.

Crouch, whose background is in child psychology, says there is also a value in doing nothing, although she says she knows her family's take on things is unusual but not unique.

In her book How to Really Be a Mother, journalist Emily Hourican, says because parents have a huge anxiety about just letting their kids go out and play, they schedule play dates and after-school activities.

She says because there is huge uncertainty about the world of work in the future, we feel the need to give our children the competitive edge by signing them up to classes.

"We feel our children should be doing piano, they should have art lessons. Because everyone else is doing it, we feel bad if they're missing out," she says.

Hourican says parents are obsessed with equipping their children with things they think they will need in the future. However, she says by ferrying our children from class to activity, we are not spending quality time with our children as a family.

"I don't think parents should become doormats to ferry children around. I don't think it's fair that parents should spend one or two days a week and all weekend driving them to things they might never be good at. I don't think that enhances anybody's life," she says.

Rita O'Reilly, chief executive of Parentline, a helpline for parents, says parents do get stressed out ferrying their children from one activity to the next.

She says while the parent is stressed, the child might also be stressed by being pushed to do something he or she doesn't enjoy.

"If the child says he or she wants to do art, let them draw around the kitchen table or if they want to do music, let them bang on a musical instrument at home. If your child is a musical prodigy it will come out," she says.

O'Reilly says parents need to stop beating themselves up and try to enjoy some calm time for themselves and their children.

Psychologist Sarah O'Doherty says there's no "one size fits all" approach when it comes to families and how they spend their time.

She says there are many activities that are great for kids but children also need time to just play and make up games to develop their brains.

According to O'Doherty, parents can sometimes feel that just being with their kids is not good enough. "We don't have to be constantly doing something that we think is educational or putting a title on the things we do.

"I think parents can feel that if they're not doing something mind-expanding with their kids, it's not good enough".