We want our children to be well rounded. We want them to enjoy sports, music, art, scouts, dance, or whatever else we think would benefit them by helping to build skills such as self-confidence (or maybe even get them that college scholarship). But children can only do so much, and the same goes for parents. There are a million choices in extracurricular activities, but only so many hours in the day.
How Much Is Too Much?
There is a definite limit to how many activities children can handle. KidsHealth.org polled a group of 882 children ages 9-13 about how busy they are. An astounding 90% of the children said they feel stressed because they are too busy. And 24% of those children said they feel stressed all the time. Could your child feel the same?
Melanie Coughlin, M.A., a licensed marriage and family therapist, told Psychology Today,
"Many children today don't have time to breathe. Parents think their kids will grow up and remember all the wonderful activities they were involved in, (but they) will remember how exhausted they were and how their parents were constantly yelling at them to hurry up and get ready for the next activity."
That's why, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), downtime, family time, and child-driven free play are essential to children, allowing them to be creative and develop their imagination, dexterity, and physical cognitive, and emotional strength. In fact, the AAP says free play is vital to healthy brain development.
The AAP points out that a fast-paced life full of activities creates anxiety and depression for some children. It is up to parents to find the balance for their children — allowing them to be successful and enjoy their childhood at the same time. If you notice that your child is stressed, irritable, over-tired, or falling behind in school, it is time to cut out some of her activities to allow for more down time and free play.
How to Choose Extracurriculars
According to The Centers for Youth and Families, choosing your child's activities is a balancing act. The number of activities and which activities your child participates in will depend entirely on your child. Sit down with the calendar and make a schedule that works for everyone. Then, enroll your child in one or two activities that work with your schedule and that your child actually wants to do. Don't force her to try something she doesn't really want to try, as that can lead to frustration and resentment. Make sure there your child's schedule allows for a bit of free time each day.
After a month, review your schedule and talk to your child about her activities. Make sure she has enough down time and family time, and that her academics aren't suffering. Find out if she wants to continue with her activities. If all is well, she may even be able to add in another activity she is interested in. Continue to check in monthly to make sure she isn't overwhelmed or stressed. Use this time to help teach her about time management and prioritizing. Remember, school comes first.
Once your child's life is more balanced, yours will be too. You'll have more time to relax, more time to be a family, and probably more cash in your pocket too.