It can be easy for kids to get excited about taking on projects, joining teams and being involved in whatever they seem to enjoy, but how much is too much? We share some of the signs to watch for that indicate your child might be doing too much and not leaving enough time to just be a kid.
We asked Dr. Fran Walfish, leading child, teen, parent and family psychotherapist, to share her insight on how to tell if your child is taking on too much at school.
Signs to watch for
Walfish shares four signs your child might be overdoing it at school or with extracurricular activities — or both.
- Any change in sleeping or eating patterns.
- Mood changes, including increased anxiety, depression or worried states, can be a sign of overload.
- Social isolation. If your child stays in her room and doesn’t want to play with others or hang out at the mall with friends, this is cause for concern.
- If your child tells you that he or she has taken on too much or is feeling overwhelmed, pay close attention, and take this statement seriously.
What’s going on when kids do too much?
“When a child or adult is sad, unhappy or depressed, it is common to see sleep disruption and an increase or decrease in appetite. These are signs for parents to look for in a child who may be doing too much,” notes Walfish. “Some kids can’t express their feelings directly to their parents. Instead, we see these children suppress their emotions, and eventually we can observe a change in their mood,” she explains.
Walfish adds that children who are depressed tend to isolate themselves and not want to be around other kids or adults, and while some children are able to articulate their feelings directly to their parents, sometimes you need to watch closely for signs something may be amiss. “Moms and Dads, pay attention. Listen to your children’s voices, and respond with compassion and empathy,” she advises. “Offer to make changes in order to ensure success in the activities your child chooses to remain committed to. It is extremely important to have open dialogue and communication with your child.”
How to help kids lead a balanced life
The best way to make sure your child doesn’t end up feeling overloaded or stressed from having too much going on is to include him or her in the planning process. “Give your child choices of activities that are acceptable to you, and let her choose no more than two extra activities per week, and help her follow through with her commitment to the finish line,” says Walfish. “It is important to help your child follow through on commitments. Naturally there are a few exceptions, but in general, help your child stay until the series is completed.”
It’s also important to not force any unwanted activities on your child. “Today, kids are overbooked with karate, art classes, tutors, music, sports and drama classes. Most kids come into my office in the afternoons, throw themselves onto my couch, and complain about how tired they are,” Walfish notes. “They simply long for quiet time.”
The importance of letting kids be kids
While you might think the more your child is doing, the better off they’ll be, downtime is important. “The reason simply playing and ‘being kids’ is important is to allow their imaginations to develop and grow,” explains Walfish. “Our use of imagination helps us create in our mind’s eye a vision of forward motion and development of our life goals and dreams,” she says. Just “being kids” also helps build social skills and enhances friendships.
Balance is important for everyone, both kids and adults. “Every human being needs time to relax, and that is also why simply playing is very important for children,” Walfish affirms.