As a parent, it seems there are a million opportunities to sign your child up for some sort of activity. Whether it’s sports, clubs, enrichment courses or lifestyle classes (cooking, anyone?), there’s never a shortage of extra-curriculars. While these activities help our kids become well-rounded, they can also create unmanageable schedules. What’s the right balance between enriching your child and over-stressing him? Read on for more tips to determine the best way to keep your child interested but not over-scheduled.
Could you be over-scheduling your child and, if so, how can you determine which activities enable your child to thrive rather than wilt? Dr Nancy Rappaport, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, shares her insight.
Sometimes the expectations of society and your social circle can make you feel like a failure if little Johnny doesn’t master at least three sports, a foreign language and acrylic on canvas. But it’s up to you to determine priorities and teach your kids to do the same.
One of the main problems with enrolling your kids in a bunch of activities is the time taken away from family activities. “If the scheduling never allows the family to have meal time together, this could be a sign that there are too many activities,” says Dr Rappaport. “Also, if they are spending so much time in structured activities that there is no time for free activities, such as reading for pleasure, this can impact academic achievement.”
Down time, aka unscheduled and unstructured time, is highly underrated, especially when kids are young. “Kids under 7 need a healthy diet of playtime so that they can build their imagination, and initiative and self-regulation,” says Dr. Rappaport. “Older children can tolerate more time with games and rules.” Don’t be afraid to let your kids come up with their own activities and games. Sometimes a little boredom is all a child needs to spark creativity.
Often it’s not the activities that are putting pressure on the child, but the intensity surrounding that activity. “Many kids enjoy being busy and have fun with structured activities,” says Dr Rappaport. “However, it can be toxic to kids if they spend too much time doing an activity where they feel pressured and criticized by their parents.”
You know your child best, so it’s usually pretty easy to tell if your he has too much on his plate. “If you start to see a pattern where your child is irritable at the end of the week or if your child starts to quit a lot of activities, you probably need to scale down the schedule,” suggests Dr Rappaport.
Ultimately, it’s important to be in touch with your child’s needs and goals so that you can cultivate a healthy balance between their family life, school life and extra-curricular activities.
More on juggling the family schedule
- Organizing a crazy family schedule
- How to juggle the family schedule
- Adjusting to the school year: Extracurricular over-scheduling