Music lessons, drama club, soccer practice, dance class…the list of fun, enriching activities that are available to our children goes on and on, and they add a lot to our kids’ lives. But when does it all become too much?
While activities outside of school can keep children away from the TV and out of trouble, a packed schedule can become overwhelming for kids and lead to stress and exhaustion. Studies show that children need free time to develop their thinking skills, use their imaginations and decompress.
Keep an eye out for these signs that kids may have too much going on:
- They aren’t sleeping well. Children who don’t have enough downtime might have trouble unwinding at the end of the day. Or, if they’re stressed about having too much to get done in one day, they may wake up early or stay up too late.
- They don’t just play for fun or do nothing. Kids who are overscheduled may stop enjoying some of their favorite activities, and may not have the time or energy to play outside or spend time with friends.
- They’re struggling in school. There’s only so much time in the day, and if after-school activities are taking up too much of your child’s energy and attention, their grades may start to drop.
- They complain of headaches and stomachaches. Stomachaches and headaches can be caused by stress, lack of sleep, or irregular meals. Kids might also become anxious or moody from the pressure of doing well in multiple extracurricular activities.
- You’re stressed out! If keeping track of your children’s activities and driving them around is beginning to tire you out, there’s a good chance it’s having an effect on your children, too.
If any of these ring a bell, your child’s plate may be a little too full. The prospect of scaling back your child’s activities may seem daunting, but there are some steps you can take to help prevent your child from becoming too overwhelmed.
- Ask your child for their input. How are they feeling about their schedules? Are they enjoying anything in particular, or is there a specific activity they don’t like as much as they used to? Think about rearranging your child’s schedule based on his or her feedback.
- Schedule in free time. Make family dinners, game nights and playtime a priority. Instead of adding in a structured activity every weekend, give your child time to read, ride their bike, or relax.
- Be selective about new activities. If your child is interested in getting involved in something new, try sampling the new activity before making another long-term commitment—or, drop an extracurricular before starting a new one.
Kenya T. Malcolm, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who specializes in evaluation, treatment, and consultation with children, adolescents, and their families. She sees patients at UR Medicine’s Pediatric Practice and for ongoing therapy through UR Medicine’s Pediatric Health and Wellness Outpatient Services.