Having extracurricular activities can be so important for kids because the activities can nurture social and physical fitness. But having too many can lead to stressed out kids. Here’s how to recognize the symptoms of stress — and what to do about it.
In Cate O’Malley’s household, there are designated days set aside for doing nothing — guaranteed downtime built into her family’s busy lives. “I’ve found that kids (and adults!) get too easily swept up into an overscheduled week, and balance is a must for our health and sanity,” says O’Malley, who blogs at Sweetnicks.com.
While O’Malley has haven preventative measures against stress, that’s not the case for every family. Think your kids might be stressed out? Read on.
Symptoms of stress in kids
If you think your child might be stressed, you should need to know what to look for. Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT, a syndicated columnist and therapist, says that parents can look for two key symptoms of stressed out kids.
Trouble falling asleep can be an indicator. “Kids who are rushed from one activity to another, who don’t have any down time, will often have trouble falling asleep at night because they can’t wind down,” explains Schneider.
Being unusually emotional is another sign. Children without downtime don’t have an opportunity to process emotions, Schneider says. “When kids don’t have time to process the events of their day — or their life — their emotions become clogged and things build up. This makes them more likely to throw temper tantrums, overreact to problems [and] cry over simple things,” says Scheider.
De-stressing your stressed out kids
If you think your child or children are stressed out, then it’s time to do something. Specifically, remove some of the stress… but how? “Talk with your child: ask her if she feels overloaded between school and activities. It’s important to help kids understand their own feelings and realize they have the power to do something about them,” explains Schneider.
Helping your stressed out kids fix the situation also teaches them about the importance of downtime. “Helping our kids understand when they’re feeling over-committed and then learning how to cut back on activities provides valuable life-lessons,” says Schneider.
More on extracurricular overscheduling >>
What extracurricular activities to cut?
Deciding what to cut from your child’s activities can be tough. Schneider says that parents should decide what activity they’d like to cut, and then talk to their kids. “Kids do need to have some choices in what they participate in — it helps them feel they have more influence in their lives,” says Schneider.
Another option is to preempt stress by scaling back, as O’Malley and other forward-thinking parents do. Mom Patsy Kreitman, who writes Family, Friends and Food, says that she and her husband decided to cut back on their sons’ activities this winter. “This gives us time to have dinner as a family, work on homework and study for tests and even have reading time as a family. While we do love the physical activity and the social aspect of having them involved, our feeling was that schoolwork and having time for play dates was equally important,” says Kreitman.