As summer winds down, many parents are thinking about getting back to “the grind” – school and everything that comes with it. Homework, dance lessons, football practice, music lessons, and so on — it seems like enrichment opportunities are never ending these days.
However, much has been made about what many call the epidemic of over-scheduled kids. Conventional wisdom these days says that parents are burdening their kids with too many activities, resulting in stress-related health and psychological problems. So how do you know when enough is enough?
Signs to Watch For:
- Your child never has time for quiet relaxation. Ask yourself: When is the last time you saw your child just listening to music or reading a book? Do they ever just go out and swing or walk around the yard?
- Your child complains of headaches, pains, or just generally doesn’t feel well. (Irritability and grumpiness are also signs.)
- What used to be fun for your child isn’t fun anymore. Those twice a week dance lessons turned into pre-professional classes every day of the week that she now drags her feet to.
- His or her grades are suffering. If your child is getting up at 5 a.m. to do homework that they didn’t have time for the night before, it’s time to cut back.
- You are spending more time with your kids in the car than anywhere else. Worse yet, you are eating meals from the drive-thru more than once or twice a week.
- Your child’s best friend isn’t around anymore. It is a warning sign if the impromptu phone calls have stopped and they don’t get invited to sleepovers anymore.
- YOU (the parent) are tired and miserable.
If you recognize any of these signs, it might be time to cut back a little. Start by cutting back 5 percent (or one night a week), or try a “no-activity day” once a month.
What about single parents or families where both parents work? I know many rely on extra-curricular activities in lieu of their child sitting at home with a babysitter doing nothing. That’s okay, too. There are many advantages to extracurricular activities including having well-rounded experiences outside of academics, the opportunity to develop new interests and skills, and working cooperatively with other children. The key is not to over-scrutinize your child’s performance in these extra-curricular activities. There is nothing wrong with playing soccer for fun instead of vying for the travel team. A common theme in the research is that parents should worry less about the time their children spend on activities and more about the messages they send to their children about those activities. If they are having fun, then don’t stress about it.
Experts agree that striking a balance between scheduled activities and free time is what’s most important. An essential ingredient to your child’s emotional health is the feeling that they know their parents and their parents know them. Unscheduled time together as a family, without goals or plans, is where these important bonds are made. When children feel understood, loved and cared for, they’ll be able to draw on that strength when the inevitable challenges arise in their life. Feeling loved and secure will help them weather many a storm. My kids love it when we just stay home and do nothing (Mom and Dad love it too!).
Regardless of how many activities your child is involved with, make sure you schedule time for yourself to be with them, whether it’s a having them put away their iPod on the way to baseball practice or going for a walk with them on Sunday afternoon. Take the time to talk with them or, better yet, listen. You’ll be glad you did.