Are You Overscheduling Your Kids?

Written by Aisha Pope LCSW on . Posted in Articles

Are You Overscheduling Your Kids??     

  It’s that time of year again!! I felt the earth shake a couple of weeks ago as millions of parents across the country simultaneously danced a happy dance when they sent their kids off to the first day of school. Gone are the long lazy warm days of summer 2012, and in their wake are the shorter busier cooler days of fall (or if you’re in San Diego like me the universe thinks you’re too spoiled by good weather so it’s punishing you with a temp of 107…but I digress). As exciting as it is to send the kids off that first day, a harsh reality often sets in just a few hours later when we pick them up.

The transition from summer break back to school can be a shock to the system for parents and kids alike. All at once we’re adjusting to alarm wake ups, a pretty rigid daytime schedule, homework, shorter days, and if you’re a typical family in America these days, an afternoon, evening, and weekend full of tutoring, soccer, gymnastics, band, dance, tae kwon do, church, youth group, etc. etc. And when they’re not in activities themselves, they’re doing their homework in lobbies, backseats, or bleachers waiting for a sibling to finish their activities. Got children with special needs? Well add speech therapy, OT, ABA, therapy, doc appointments, etc. to the list. I wish I was exaggerating, but we see families every day whose kids are so overwhelmed by their schedule that they are giving up ‘optional’ things they really enjoy, in favor of ‘required’ activities they could take or leave. In an effort to give our kids more opportunities and a well-rounded childhood (we all want this for our kids) we’re inadvertently robbing them of needed time to rest, socialize without structure, and chose recreation activities that line up with their own strengths and interests. So, how do we avoid over scheduling our kids?

1) Prioritize – what activities absolutely have to be on the schedule? Which ones are high preferences for the parents? Which are high preferences for the kids? Which are only on the schedule because Tuesday nights were free?

2) Get children involved – in a family meeting, discuss with the kids their strengths and interests. Chose activities that build on those. Set a limit on how many activities each child will participate in at a time, what the budget is for extracurricular activities, and then pick.

3) Be careful to avoid activities that interfere with regular meal and sleep times. If your kids are snacking on dinner in the back seat of the car every day, and getting to bed late every night, their brain
won’t be getting the fuel it needs to be present at school.

4) Check in with your kids regularly about whether they’re feeling overwhelmed, and teach them how to recognize if they are. We adults are pretty good at recognizing signs that we’re over tired or overwhelmed (even if we’re not great at doing something about it). Kids, not so much. They won’t likely say I’m overwhelmed, they’ll show you through irritability and whining, and low motivation that we’ll misconstrue as defiance and laziness.

5) Whenever possible, avoid having children wait while their siblings are in activities. Children who spend a lot of time waiting for siblings tend to be just as tired, and feel just as busy as the kid in the activity. They also are often irritable with or resentful of the sibling they’re always waiting around for.

6) Schedule leisure time! And stick to it! If there are evening activities, try to keep the weekends free. If there are weekend activities, try to keep some evenings free. And then don’t fill ‘free time’ with chores and other responsibilities. Give children opportunities to be alone just to relax, and family time that’s spent having fun and connecting. It’s also helpful to schedule breaks between activities. If the last day of soccer is Friday, maybe wait a week or two before enrolling in ballet instead of starting Saturday morning.

Do you have other ways you’ve simplified your family’s schedule? Our readers would love to hear them! Post in the comments below, email us at RAWNews@contactRAW.com, or post them on our Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/RootsAndWingsConsulting

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Aisha Pope LCSW

Aisha Pope is the co-founder and Director of Roots & Wings Consulting.

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