There was a time when young kids went to school, came home and did a little homework, then went outside to play with their friends. Their schedules were open and easy for them to handle.
Nowadays, more and more young kids and adolescents are involved in so many activities they don’t seem to have time to play in the backyard. On top of school, many kids are involved in two or three team sports, music lessons, and church activities. These kids often struggle to keep up with their school & extracurricular activity load and find themselves anxious, having trouble sleeping, and worrying about meeting all these expectations.
Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, believes that enrolling children in too many activities is a nationwide problem. “Overscheduling our children is not only a widespread phenomenon, it’s how we parent today,” he says.
“Parents feel remiss that they’re not being good parents if their kids aren’t in all kinds of activities. Children are under pressure to achieve, to be competitive.”
Kids Want to Please Their Parents
While we may think we are doing our kids a service by signing them up for activities we think they’ll enjoy and will build character and confidence, we must understand that they may not want or be able to handle so much.
Some of us may look back on our own childhoods with regret and dismay and vow that our kids will have more. These good intentions often turn into childhood nightmares for our kids. We mean well, but sometimes it’s just too much for them to handle.
Here are some things parents can do to help their children balance their schoolwork and extracurricular activities:
Parents need to lighten up and remember that childhood is supposed to be fun! It’s OK not to be busy sometimes. There will be plenty of time to be serious when they are adults. Try to put less pressure on your child to achieve something grand, and spend more time engaging in relational activities. Relational activities include anywhere from playing a board game, to cooking a meal together, to going for a walk. Anything that involves spending time together and making positive memories .
Understand the Benefits of Self-Direction
Independent work and play times are highly beneficial to the developing mind and ego. Alone time also helps children process their experiences and de-stress.
Talk to Your Child
You won’t know if your child is struggling to keep up with his or her activities unless you talk openly with them about it. Avoid closed ended questions (questions resulting in Yes or No answers) and use open questions such as…
“How are you feeling about this week’s schedule?”
“I noticed after school you have tutoring, practice, and rehearsal tonight, what can I do to help?”
Extracurricular activities like music, arts, and sports can definitely play an important role in your child’s development. Just make sure your child does not become overwhelmed by too many activities. Allowing them the space to talk openly gives them permission to be honest about how they’re feeling about meeting all their responsibilities. It also communicates that it’s safe to talk about both positive and negative feelings. If there are, in fact, some activities that need to be removed from the schedule, work with your child to prioritize and problem solve how to alter their schedules in a way that meets their needs.
If you’re finding your child or teen is having difficulties with feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or overly preoccupied about not meeting responsibilities or high expectations (often set by themselves), talk to a therapist to help you and your child sort through possible solutions.