These days it seems families are busier than ever. Many kids have too much to do and not enough time to do it. For some families, kids 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 college of their choice.
Some parents feel it’s more productive to keep their kids constantly occupied. They might also feel that their kids will miss out on key experiences if they aren’t doing what other kids are. But most parents usually just want what seems best for their kids. Even when intentions are good, though, kids can easily become overscheduled.
And, even those parents who try to help their kids cut back on some activities can run up against coaches who won’t tolerate absences and kids who want to keep up with their friends. However, it’s important for parents to step back and make sure that their kids aren’t burning out.
Some signs that your kids may be too busy, include: feeling tired, anxious, depressed; complaining of headaches and stomachaches, which may be due to stress; missed meals, or lack of sleep; falling behind on their schoolwork.
The key is to schedule things in moderation and choose activities with a child’s age, temperament, interests, and abilities in mind. Check out these easy tips to help manage extracurricular activities and make them more enjoyable for all:
- Agree on ground rules ahead of time: For instance, plan on kids playing 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 that everybody can stay up-to-date.
- Even if kids sign up for the season, let them 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 expend time and energy carting one kid to activities, leaving little time for another. And take time for yourself, to do the things you 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 bike ride.
- Set priorities: School should come first. If kids 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 what other 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. It’s also important for kids to simply get together to play or hang out. Kids need time to just be kids.
For more on this topic, please visit CHOC’s Kids Health education resource.