People talk a lot about the dangers of the over-scheduled child. Kids doing too many activities become tired and grumpy. They don’t have time to spend with their family. They get burned out and begin to dislike whatever activity the parent was hoping they would embrace. They don’t have time to just play and be kids. Before I had my own children, all of this made sense to me. That’s why I decided that my kids would participate in only one activity at a time. If they wanted to take a dance class, that’s all they’d do until the class was over. If they wanted to play a sport, they wouldn’t be involved in anything else until the end of the season. I wasn’t going to have my kids dealing with all the problems facing over-scheduled children.
That was before I had kids of my own.
Then my first son came along, and I was giddy with all the opportunities available to him, and all of his many different interests, all of which increased with each passing year. Especially once he entered elementary school, I quickly came to see that my one-activity-at-a-time commitment was going to be tested. My husband and I wanted him to learn piano. He wanted to be involved in Cub Scouts with his friends from school. Plus, it was immediately apparent that his passion was athletics. He wanted to play every sport in season.
Piano. Scouts. Sports. Add in playdates, homework, family outings, and “unstructured play time,” and how were we supposed to fit all of that in? And he was just our first child! We now have three, all with their own opportunities and passions.
These days, as my oldest approaches adolescence, I still believe that over-scheduling kids really is a legitimate concern. Children can become anxious and pressured and miss out on the benefits of boredom, down time, and the freedom of childhood. But I no longer believe that all kids shouldn’t participate in multiple activities. My kids are involved in all kinds of things, and sometimes I do worry that they’re doing too much.
But having spent a few years trying to strike a healthy balance in terms of my kids’ activities, I now believe that “over-scheduled” can be extremely variable from one child to the next. And one family to the next. Most kids love to be active, and as long as it’s healthy to do so, we want to feed their passions and take advantage of good opportunities, even if it means a tighter schedule for the family.
That being said, though, here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re worried your child might be a doing a bit too much:
- Does my child seem tired or grumpy a lot of the time?
- Does my child show signs of being under pressure or anxious? Is my child stressed out?
- Is my child so busy that he or she doesn’t have unstructured time for playing, being bored, having family time, and being creative?
- Is my child’s schedule so full that he or she doesn’t have time to just hang out with friends?
- Are there so many activities happening that we’re too busy to eat dinner together regularly? (You don’t have to eat every meal together, but if you’re rarely eating together, that’s a concern.)
- Are you yourself so busy and stressed getting your kids to all their activities that a majority of your interactions with your children are reactive and impatient?
Answering “yes” to any of one of these questions should give you pause. If you said yes more than once, then I’d recommend that you give some serious thought to whether your child is signed up for too many activities.
Notice that I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t have to do things they don’t enjoy. You may decide that a foreign language or music class or math tutoring is something that will pay off and is in their best interest. But, do look overall at how much your child is enjoying their days and weeks, and the emotional, physical, and mental toll that their activities take on their sleep, friendships, and happiness. Think about how stressed you feel when you have too much on your plate, and consider things from your child’s point of view.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to figure out everything all at once. Just think about one season at a time. If the summer is coming up, then just decide about summer activities. You can reassess when it’s time to think about the fall, then again in the winter. Assess each new season for each child.
Here’s what it comes down to: Is your child happy and thriving and enjoying life without a lot of stress? If so, don’t worry too much about whether she’s over-scheduled. If you don’t observe the above signs of over-scheduling, then most likely, she’s simply active, growing, and happy.