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From frantic to focused: The overscheduled child

Coming home to tired, cranky and stressed-out kids can easily transform your home from a feeling of refuge to a household of hassles. Overscheduled children impact routines at home. So how do families create a home environment that supports harmony and balance?

Patty is a talented softball player. Her junior high school coach has repeatedly praised her pitching abilities, thereby increasing her confidence in her skills. Patty’s mom decided to provide Patty with individual coaching practice twice a week to further extend her daughter’s natural abilities. The only time the coach was available to help her child occurred on the same days that Patty had swim practice. Patty’s mom left work early to transport her child from school to coaching practice and back to school just in time for swim practice. The family sat down for dinner at 7:30pm. Homework began at 8pm.Is there a problem here? Yes! Every parent wants what is best for their child. Whether that means through private coaching, tutoring or the newest ‘whachyamacallit’ to excel in class, many parents consider the expenditure justified.

It is important to nurture and support the interests of your child, but not to the detriment of common sense. Every proclivity does not have to be sustained and maintained.

Crowding a child’s week with sports, music or art lessons while simultaneously going to school could easily leave many children feeling exhausted and anxious.

Look for warning signs. If each indicator is taken one by one, they are easy to confuse with normal adolescent behavior. Add them up and parents have a huge red flag.


The ‘big picture’

Step 1: With your child, review their commitments and obligations month by month. It can be as simple as listing items on a sheet of paper divided into 31 blocks, or on a calendar purchased from a local supplies store or a fancy planner. Write down every obligation for each day, including school hours for each child.

Step 2: Return to your first entry. Fill in times and activities.

Step 3: Add the usual activities such as family chores, computer time and TV watching that can be a part of your child’s life.

When you look at the obligations versus free time and personal choice, a busy schedule could be bordering on overload for your child. One day a week isn’t cause for concern, but four times a week? A packed schedule can take its toll. 


Additional questions

Does your child have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? According to WebMd, children ages seven to 11 need ten to 11 hours of sleep a day. This drops to eight or nine hours of sleep a day when a child is between the ages of 12 and 18.

  • Is your child easily irritated, and cries over very minor things?
  • Does your child have little or no time for friends outside of planned activities?
  • Is there a drop in grades because your child doesn’t have time to study?

If you answered yes to any or all of these  questions, they might be indicators that your child is overscheduled.


What parents can do

First, determine priorities. Sit down with your child and talk. Often, schedules get out of whack because activities are added without considering what your child is already doing. Take a hard look at the schedule and see where it can be pruned.

Second, teach your child to say no to activities that don’t really matter to them.

Third, teach your child to say yes to an activity after 

it has been considered in the ‘big picture’ of things to do. Is it worth the investment in time? Will it interfere with schoolwork and/or jeopardize post-secondary studies? 

Is it worth giving up free time with friends? Hanging out? Education is priority No. 1.

Additionally, it is important to consider the loss of family time. Will an additional activity interfere with the family’s dinner time, church or other activities important to the family?

Your child may want to do everything. And a child can, just not at the same time. Teach your child how to prioritize activities in their life, now. It is a lesson that will help them for their entire life.


Jan is a reading coach and tutor, speaker, presenter, blogger and has programs for parents. 


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