“She’s not really good at soccer and she doesn’t really like it, but all her friends are doing it.”

“If I miss a practice, even for a doctor’s appointment, I get benched.”

“If my son didn’t have an after-school activity every day of the week, he’d sit around eating junk and playing video games.”

“I don’t really like lacrosse, but I have to do it because it’ll look good on my college application.”

“She wants to take gymnastics, art, dance and cooking, and she goes to afternoon religious school twice a week. I’m not pushing her.”

These are typical explanations and complaints from children and parents in regards to their busy schedules. Clearly, some kids have too much to do and not enough time to do it and it’s hard to tell if it’s due to their parents’ pushing or youngsters trying to keep up with their peers. Whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure—something’s got to give. Is your child too busy?

WHY ARE KIDS SO BUSY?

For some families, children may be driving the schedule because they don’t want to feel left out. Teens may feel pressure to boost their roster of activities to get into the colleges of their choice.

Some parents feel it’s more productive to keep their children constantly occupied rather than to leave free time for playing, exploring and learning on their own. Parents may also feel that their children will miss out on key experiences if they aren’t doing what others are doing.

But most parents just want what seems best for their children. Even when intentions are good, though, kids can easily become overscheduled. The pressures to participate in a handful of activities all the time and to “keep up” can be physically and emotionally exhausting for parents and young ones alike.

Of course, this isn’t to say that organized activities and sports are not beneficial. They foster social skills and are opportunities for play and exercise. They teach sportsmanship, self-discipline and conflict resolution. Most of all, they’re fun! The key is to keep them that way and ensure that participants—and parents—aren’t overwhelmed.

SIGNS THAT A CHILD IS TOO BUSY

Sooner or later, a child who is too busy will begin to show signs. Every child is different, but those who are overscheduled may feel tired, anxious or depressed; complain of headaches and stomachaches (which may be due to stress), missed meals, or lack of sleep; or fall behind in their schoolwork, causing their grades to drop.

Over scheduling can also take a toll on friendships and social lives. Family life also can suffer, in that when one parent is driving to basketball practice and the other is carpooling to dance class, family meals are missed. As a result, over-scheduled families rarely eat dinner together and may not take the extra time to stay connected. Plus, the weekly grind of driving children all over the place and getting to one class, game or practice after another can be downright tiresome and stressful for parents.

TIPS FOR BUSY FAMILIES

Even parents who try to help their children cut back on some activities can run up against coaches who won’t tolerate absences and those who want to keep up with their friends. However, it’s important for parents to step back and make sure that their children aren’t burning out.

The key is to schedule activities in moderation and choose activities with a child’s age, temperament, interests and abilities in mind. If something’s too advanced, the experience is likely to be frustrating. If it isn’t engaging, the child will be bored. And when children do something only to please their parents, it defeats the whole purpose.

Depending on age and interests, it’s possible to set reasonable limits on extracurricular activities and make them more enjoyable for all.

  • AGREE ON GROUND RULES AHEAD OF TIME: For instance, plan on only one sport per season or limit activities to two afternoons or evenings during the school week.
  • KNOW HOW MUCH TIME IS REQUIRED: For example, will there be time to practice between lessons? Does your child realize that soccer practice is twice a week, right after school until dinnertime? Then there’s the weekly game, too. Will homework suffer?
  • KEEP A CALENDAR TO STAY ORGANIZED: Display it on the refrigerator or other prominent spot so everybody can stay up-to-date. And if you find an empty space on the calendar, leave it alone!
  • EVEN IF SIGNED UP FOR THE SEASON, LET CHILDREN MISS ONE OR TWO SESSIONS: Sometimes taking the opportunity to hang out on a beautiful day is more important than going to one more activity, even if you’ve already paid for it..
  • TRY TO CARPOOL WITH OTHER PARENTS TO MAKE LIFE EASIER.
  • TRY TO BALANCE ACTIVITIES FOR ALL OF YOUR KIDS — AND YOURSELF: It hardly seems fair to spend time and energy carting one child to activities while leaving little time for another. It’s also important for parents to take time for themselves, to do the things they enjoy and to spend time together as a family
  • CREATE FAMILY TIME: If you’re eating pizza on the run every night, plan a few dinners when everyone can be home at the same time, even if it means eating a little later. Schedule family fun time, too, whether it’s playing a board game or going on a bike ride or hike.
  • SET PRIORITIES: School should come first. For those who have a hard time keeping up academically, they may need to drop an activity.
  • KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO: If your child is already doing a lot but really wants to take on another activity, discuss which activity or activities need to be dropped to make room for the new one.
  • REMEMBER THE IMPORTANCE OF DOWNTIME: Everyone needs a chance to relax, reflect on the day or just do nothing.

SLOW IT DOWN

Take a moment and think about your child’s life. If it’s hectic, sit down together and decide where you can cut back. If it’s overly structured, set aside time for blowing off some steam.

Riding a bike, taking a walk, playing a game, listening to music or just doing nothing for a while can give children some much-needed downtime. And never forget how important it is for them to simply get together to play. Kids need time to just be kids.

Reviewed by D’Arcy Lyness, PhD

This information was provided by KidsHealth®, one of the largest resources online for medically reviewed health information written for parents, kids, and teens. For more articles like this, visit KidsHealth.org or TeensHealth.org. © 1995- 2014. The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. All rights reserved.