It goes without saying that participating in after-school programming is good for children. Playing a musical instrument broadens brain development, engaging in athletics teaches teamwork and sportsmanship, and joining clubs can foster new friendships and adventures. Children are often given a broad range of activities from which to choose, and the temptation for parents is to set them free and expose them to as many options as they can schedule. Equally important, however, is allowing enough time for kids to be kids: explore nature, imagine pretend worlds with friends, or just be by themselves and read a book. The question becomes, How much free time is necessary, and how much programming is too much? This fine line is not easily discernible.
Here are some obvious and (some not-so-obvious) signs that indicate your child could be suffering from programming-overload:
- Your child’s grades are slipping. Are too many activities leaving too little time to study or complete homework assignments? Maybe your child is completing his homework, but sacrificing his much needed sleep? Is he struggling to pay attention in class? Watch for a downward pattern in grades, and consider that too many after-school activities may be to blame.
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, and mental signs like; anxiety, irritability, and even depression, may be a result of stress and pressure.
- All of your “quality time” with your child is spent in the car going to or coming from activities. You don’t spend enough one-on-one time with your child, doing something that is meaningful to both of you.
- Your child is losing friends because he is too busy to maintain relationships. This is a clear indication that your child needs unstructured time to bond, socialize, and play.
If you’ve identified that your child doesn’t have enough down time, what’s the next step? The clear answer is to cut back on activities. Sometimes we, as parents, fall into the trap of encouraging our children to participate in activities that we wish we had done as a child. Maybe you wish you had chosen to play soccer instead of football, or maybe the activity just wasn’t available to you as a child. Either way, your child may feel undue pressure to continue participation because they don’t want to disappoint you. If your child feels he is loved and has an open relationship with you, he will be able to let you know that he no longer wants to participate in a certain activity, whether they seem important to you or not.
It is also important to recognize when a child is scheduled for an activity because it works for the parents but not necessarily for the individual child. The temptation might be to sign him up for piano lessons on Tuesday nights because you typically have to work late, but if the end result is a stressed-out and angry child, the piano lessons are far from worth it. Consider setting him up for a play-date that evening or bringing work home instead.
Talk to your son about which activities he enjoys the most, cut out the rest. Check back in with him often. See if he is still interested in all his current activities.
After-school programming is a great asset to your child’s development; too much, however, can be detrimental. Whether you believe filling his schedule with clubs will set your son up for future academic success, or you are using activities to ease family scheduling, it is important to continuously monitor after-school programming levels to make sure your child is reaping the benefits. Parenting is a balancing act, and often there is no perfect answer. No one knows your child better, or cares about him more, than you. Watch for the warning signs of overscheduling but let your parental instincts be your ultimate guide.
Hear what noted child psychologist Dr. Anthony Rao has to say about choosing the right sport for your child. And, don’t forget to join us on November 4 at 7:00 PM for Are You Doing Right by Your Son?: A Discussion with Dr. Anthony Rao. Reserve your seat now!