There are two opposing thoughts about this topic. Many believe that children today are far too busy with school, sports teams, clubs, music lessons, and several other afterschool activities. Others believe the enrichment and physical exercise children receive from these activities are very important to their development. It’s critical for children to develop their skills and natural talents with some of these activities, but how much is too much? We don’t want our kids so busy that they experience an unhealthy amount of stress. Here are some suggestions for determining if your kid is too busy:
- They exhibit signs of fatigue or undergo personality changes. The problem may not be just a lack of sleep, even though a lack of sleep can be a big problem. Too many activities create stress, and that creates personality problems. A typically enthusiastic child can become lethargic. Uncommon mood swings or signs of depression may begin to occur. As parents, it’s our job to notice the signs of childhood stress and demand some changes. Kids want to have it all – sports, music, honors classes, karate, afterschool camps, and in their spare time, horse riding lessons. Parents have to intervene and make wise choices for them.
- They hardly engage in free play. Part of a child’s development used to result from playing in the backyard, inviting friends over to the house, or just engaging with the neighborhood kids. Free play, not organized activities, allowed kids to learn how to sort out relationship issues, be creative, discover nature around them, relieve stress, and entertain themselves. A large part of free play has been replaced by organized activities. Although these activities may provide a great way for kids to develop their abilities and interests, they can be overscheduled and rob children of natural learning experiences.
- They need you to constantly entertain them. Overscheduled children become used to following the orders of an instructor who organizes every hour of their day. Children can become so accustomed to the agenda in a sports practice or an organized activity, they become dependent upon adults to always tell them what to do. When kids show signs of parental over-dependence, it’s time to expose them more to other kids in an unstructured setting.
- They experience too much car time, and not enough family dinnertime. What is the norm in your family, eating in the car as you drive from one activity to another, or sitting down with everyone for a family meal? Kids eventually come to an age – usually older teenagers – when they are more apt to handle busy schedules and the demands of sports teams or fine arts activities. Don’t let your kids grow up too early. Ask the parents of a teenager who is involved in extracurricular activities. There are many days they wish they could sit down together as a family and enjoy a meal together, but the demands of the schedule don’t permit it as often as they wish. Seize the days you have with your children. When they become teens, there’s no turning back.
- They see a drop in their test grades. Difficulty in school should not demand that children drop all extracurricular involvement, but school performance needs to be a priority. If extracurricular activities rob students of quality study time or reasonable bedtimes, you can expect them to struggle academically. In these cases, parents need to initiate some changes that properly balance school and extracurricular activities.
The solution is not to drop all afterschool activities and limit your children to backyard play only. Stopping all participation so your child can sit in front of the television for several hours every afternoon is certainly not recommended. Participation in extracurricular outlets offers profitable ways to enrich your child; but over-scheduling defeats the purpose and causes harm. As parents, we need to be observant about how our children’s participation affects them and the rest of the family. Obviously, children have only one childhood to experience. Let’s help them enjoy it rather than over-schedule it.