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Avoiding activity overload for your kids

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Finding the right balance

How can you tell if your kids are overscheduled with extracurricular activities? Ballet class, soccer practice, scouting, volunteering ... kids can and do participate in so many activities. But too many extracurriculars on top of school can spell o-v-e-r-w-o-r-k-e-d for the child. How many activities are too many?

School educates kids on important life skills like how to write, spell and read, while extracurricular activities allow kids to explore other areas like the arts and sports. Both activites are important, but you must find a balance.

It can be very tempting to sign your child up for too many activities to expose your child to a wide variety of things. But that probably isn't the best idea -- too many activities can come between the child and school and family.

Before your child gets overloaded, here's what you need to know.


Activity overload

When you are running from school to activity to homework, it's easy for parents and kids to get stretched thin. Molly, a mother of three and owner of Tick-a-Too (www.tickatoo.com), used to shuttle her daughters between Girl Scouts, dance classes and bowling teams. The packed schedule meant that sometimes Molly was left exhausted. "Although the kids enjoyed their activities, the rushing to go somewhere all the time was starting to take a toll on me. I just wanted to be able
to put my feet up and relax for a moment," says Molly.

Meanwhile, it was also impacting her daughters' schoolwork. "I do feel like it affected their school work. Some days there was just not enough time for it," says Molly.

Educational consultant and former teacher Sara Lise Raff, a mom of three, says that the demands of school and how the activity is impacting the child's life should be factors in choosing activities. "Children may feel tired but should not be exhausted after participating in an activity. A child is doing too much if they are unable to eat dinner, finish their homework or required studies on a regular basis, are extraordinarily angry or have tantrums or just want to go to sleep after they come home from doing an after school activity," says Sara.


Paring down

When your family enters the realm of activity overload, it's time to make a change. But how?
For Molly, that change meant cutting down to just one activity that all her daughters enjoy, which was dance.

"When I told them they would not be able to do as many activities they were
disappointed, but I think relieved at the same time," says Molly.

Even if it's midyear, it can be okay to eliminate the activities that just aren't working out -- if you do it right. You don't want to send a message that quitting is okay, but you also don't want your child (or yourself) to be overtaxed with activities they aren't enjoying. "Sticking with a selected activity is an important lesson of commitment. However, for a young child who is only several years old a year-long activity is equivalent to forever. If a child wants to be removed from an activity, discuss the importance of not giving up and quitting and set up a test period during which the child must do his/her best in the activity. If at the end of the test period your child still does not want to engage, remove him/her from the activity and discuss the importance of commitment and future selection of activities," says expert Alexandra Mayzler.


How to choose the right activity

When you are taking the less is more approach to activities, it's important that you choose one that is really geared towards your child's interests and likes. For instance, don't sign your daughter up for dance if she's really passionate about basketball.

Suzy Martyn, a parenting consultant and mom, suggests having kids try out an activity together. "This helps the children in that they get to experience something together and even if they don't end up continuing in the same activity later, at least they get to see what one of their siblings might end up really thriving in. This type of scheduling in the beginning also helps parents logistically as they only have to drive all their kids to one place at one time," says Suzy. From there, parents can gauge their kid's interest.

Mary Ostyn, mother of 10 children and author of A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family, says that her children are each allowed one activity per season, plus swim lessons and music lessons -- but only if they are interested in them. "Interest is so important--I look for activities that kids are passionate about, that don't go beyond our budget, and (ideally) that allow other siblings to do something enjoyable at the same time. For example, activities at our local rec center are great. Instead of just sitting waiting, kids (and parents) can swim or run the track while other kids do swim lessons or gymnastics," says Mary.

Maintaining a balance between family time and activity time is important, Mary says. "More often with our particular family it is mom who gets overworked. As wonderful as all the various activities sound, we have to remember that mom's sanity is an important commodity," says Mary.

Tell us: How many extracurricular activities provide the right balance for your child? Comment below!

For more on kids and extracurricular activities:

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