How to tell if your kids are overscheduled
Worrying about college acceptance when your child is only 8 and lining up tons of extracurricular activities can lead to early burnout, says Angella Eanes, PhD, an online instructor in the psychology program for University of Phoenix and an adjunct faculty member in psychology at Columbia International University.
“Parents need to step back and consider the real goal, which should be about helping their kids achieve balance in their lives,” Eanes says, and not turning children into stressed-out adolescents.
Here, she suggests five questions to ask yourself that can help determine whether you need to cut some activities from your child’s calendar:
Is there a sudden behavior change?
“If a child who is normally well-behaved and doing well in school suddenly becomes very grumpy, moody or is misbehaving in ways they haven’t done before, it’s typically an indication of stress,” Eanes explains.
“A lot of times, adults don’t understand how to recognize children’s stress because it isn’t like adult stress. Oftentimes, it’s a child becoming stubborn or obstinate, very clingy and needy, or suddenly refusing to do the things they’ve done previously without problems.”
Has downtime gone down?
In her classes, Eanes teaches that children under age 11 should generally engage in about three hours of specific activities outside of school a week.
“The rest of the time should be downtime,” she emphasizes. “Children actually need to be able to play, because free play is part of how they develop cognitively and emotionally. Having to do things that are structured by adults all the time actually limits [kids’] ability to develop.”
Are you stressed out by your children’s activities?
If, as a parent, you feel overwhelmed just keeping track of your kids’ schedules and getting them everywhere they need to be on time, then “chances are … your kids are probably stressed out, too,” Eanes points out.
How often do you eat meals together?
While you’re busy grooming your son or daughter to become the next Beethoven or Nobel laureate, consider whether you still have time for sit-down family dinners.
“There are numerous studies that suggest that kids who regularly have sit-down meals with their families have fewer behavioral problems and are better adjusted emotionally,” Eanes says. So, she notes, if extracurricular activities are preventing your family from taking part in this ritual, you may want to consider lightening your kids’ activity loads.
Is your child having fun?
Checking in with children regularly to find out if they’re enjoying their activities is critical, Eanes emphasizes. “Generally, with school-age children, if they really love doing an activity, they tend to get the rest of their life working right because they’re doing something that’s feeding them emotionally and helping them developmentally.”
But every child is different, she adds. Parents should make time to figure out their children’s needs by watching their behavior, and be willing to make adjustments if changes are evident.