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How to avoid overscheduling kids

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...

Family schedule that works

Overscheduling continues to be a hot topic for families. Parents - and kids - want to do so much that they sometimes do too much! While the symptoms of overscheduling vary, they tend to fall into general categories: sleep, attitude, and performance. If your child is exhibiting issues in one of these areas, you might want to step back and look at the child's and the family's schedule.

Woman with personal organizer

Addressing overscheduling is all good and well, but how do you head off overscheduling to begin with? How do you build a schedule that your child and your family can live with, or, better yet, thrive on? Slowly and deliberately.

Start small

It seems so obvious, and it is: start with one core thing - usually school - and let that settle before adding something else. Unfortunately, activities such as sports and enrichment classes rarely respect this; they start up when school starts up. It's all at once - and that can make it all too much.

However, just because a particular activity starts the day after school starts for a given term, it doesn't mean your child has to start it then. You may want to reserve your child's spot in the activity, but give your child a couple or few weeks to adjust to the new school schedule before starting in. Teachers or coaches might not like this, but too bad. Your child's - and your family's - health and happiness comes first.

Prioritize, one step at a time

Once the priority element in your child's schedule is settled and working, and your child's sleep, attitude and performance are all even, then you can add something. But add just one thing at a time.

After you add each thing, give it a couple weeks. Make sure your child is, again, doing okay with sleep, attitude and performance. Make sure especially that the core/priority element in your child's day is at an even level. Then you can add a second activity, and a few weeks later, if appropriate, a third. Just make sure that with every addition the core is even.

While you're at it, don't forget yourself. Make sure that you can keep up with the pace and get everyone where they need to go and when - and do all your own stuff, too. Even if you child can handle three or more extra activities, if you can't handle them, then it's not working for the family. That's a valid reason to pull back, too.

Be willing to pull back - or even start fresh

In our family, school absolutely comes first. Scouts, art, soccer, and other things are all wonderful, and wonderfully fun, but they are secondary to my kids' main job right now: school. If I get the sense that my child is feeling overwhelmed by the level of activity or the schedule, it's one of these extras that has to go, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. Again, others might not

Occasionally, I've had pull back all the activities in my child's schedule and start fresh. While I don't relish the idea of "losing" money on unused classes or participation, my child's health and well-being is more important than that. Sometimes, amid all the potential, I forget how important down time is for my kids sense of well-being. Sometimes, even, that is an activity to schedule.

While overscheduling can take it's toll, careful and thoughtful scheduling can head it off. By building a schedule carefully and deliberately - and with a willingness to pull back when needed - you can give your kids a rich and full life without burning them out at a young age.

For more tips on extracurricular activities

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