Many families today are operating on a “hyper-schedule,” as parents seek to give their children great opportunities and a variety of experiences inside and outside of school.
As a result, children are more stressed, family time suffers, and parents struggle with emotional conflicts, financial costs and the pressure of juggling their children’s multiple activities. Too much activity can leave children too tired for homework and unable to use their limited free time wisely.
According to Amy Medley, coordinator of health and wellness programs for the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy of Norton Children’s Hospital, there’s a simple rule of thumb parents can use to tell whether they are enriching their child’s life or overscheduling it.
“Pay attention to your child’s verbal and nonverbal responses to scheduled activities,” Medley said. “If they frequently ask to skip the next event, are falling behind in school, complain about feeling tired or sleepy, tell you that they don’t enjoy their extracurricular activities and appear to be stressed or upset, it’s time to scale back their schedule.”
Although participating in extracurricular activities like sports, academics, community projects and the arts can be beneficial, quality family time for children trumps any organized activity.
“There’s no magic formula to apply to every child,” Medley said. “You simply have to know your child well and be attentive to the cues they provide. I tell parents that it’s fine for their child to have unstructured free time, just as it’s important that they spend time with their friends.”
Medley has a few simple tips to help families avoid overscheduling activities:
- Insist that your child stick with just one extra activity at a time, even during the summer.
- Be sure to plan downtime and family time.
- Keep a master calendar of all the activities family members are pursuing. It will keep everyone organized and make it easier to spot potential conflicts.