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Adjusting to the school year: Extracurricular over-scheduling

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Pulling back on the extras

The school year is about school, of course. Academics are a the top priority. But school isn't the only thing that happens on a school year cycle. Most extracurricular activities from sports to orchestra to some church youth groups run on a school year schedule, too. This means that as a child is adjusting to the academic year, that child is also adjusting to the extracurricular year, too.

BOy with guitar and soccer ball

This also means that when you are trying to evaluate how the school year is starting out for your child you also need to evaluate how the extracurricular year is going. And if the overall school year transition has some bumps, if things just aren't settling out and your child is showing some signs of stress, sometimes school and extracurriculars can be so intertwined it can be hard to tell where an issue might be!

Don't over load

Child development experts often warn against overscheduling; having a complex, tight schedule from the get go can be more than a little stressful! It can be tempting to sign up for everything (literally everything) your child is interested - but resist that temptation. Three sports plus scouts plus church group plus drama club, plus, plus, plus, is exhausting for a grown up; your child still has homework to consider. And sleep!

Prioritize the extras in your child's life. A physical activity is great for health, and for stress relief. A creative endeavor, such as art or drama or music exercises a different part of the brain. Scouts or church group may fill another important role in your lives. But can your child really do all of them, every single week? What happened to down time?

Back off if necessary

Whether your child has signed up for one or five extras for the school year, you may find that you need to back off one or more of these extras. Sure, it can be a disappointment (to both of you!), but too much is too much.

You will likely know if it's just too much and you need to, as a parent, help your child back off of the intense schedule. Symptoms of overscheduling can include things like sleeplessness, irritability, depressive symptoms, sadness, exhaustion, headaches, stomachaches, and more. If your child starts to exhibit such symptoms, look at the schedule, and back it off.

School comes first

There's a reason that student athletes are called "student-athletes" not "athlete students." Academics comes first. The same principle applies to artists, musicians, and any other talent or joy. At this time in our kids lives, we need to help them focus on school and the important learning happening there. If one of these extras is interferring, then backing it off for either short term or longer term reinforces the educational focus of this age.

Often the transition to the school year in all it's forms - in the classroom, at home, and in extracurriculars - goes off without a hitch. But when it doesn't, acting relatively quickly may help any issue that might arise remain manageable and in perspective. It's a challenging time of transition for all of us, parent and child alike, and keeping at it until we get it right benefits us all.

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