These days, some children are out of the house nearly every night of the week for extracurricular activities. For many years, I have worked with children and families as a resource coordinator and mentor. When parents come to me with academic or behavioral concerns regarding their children, I quickly ask the parents what their children are involved in after school. If the list is long, my advice is usually to scale back and see if things turn around.
Most schools and communities have an abundance of choices for children to be involved in after school: swimming, soccer, dance, gymnastics, hockey, art, drama, and music lessons are just a few of the options available to children (my daughter brings home a flier for a new activity every day). We all want our children to be well-rounded, successful, and enjoy their brief time as school children. Enrolling them in enrichment activities seems harmless, and it usually is. However, moderation is key. Children also need time to focus on their homework, socialize with friends informally, spend time with family, and have some time to relax.
How do you know if your child is doing too much? Here are six signs that it’s time to cut back on after-school activities:
1. You see a change in your child’s behavior or emotions. Overwhelmed children often show they are stressed through their behavior. Is your usually compliant child suddenly defiant? Does your formerly happy-go- lucky child now burst into tears for seemingly no reason? Take a week off from activities and spend quiet evenings at home instead. Does the situation improve? If so, too many activities are probably the culprit.
2. Your child doesn’t seem to be enjoying the activity. One of my client’s eight-year-old daughter was rude and argumentative on the days she had dance lessons. My client realized that her daughter didn’t enjoy the twice-a-week, two-hour lessons and the daughter didn’t know how to tell her mom. The daughter was relieved when her mom gave her permission to stop dance lessons.
3. Your child seems exhausted.
Signs that activities are getting in the way of a child’s rest include:
4. Your child’s grades drop. I always advise parents to take a look at what has changed whenever a child’s grades plummet; an increase in after-school activities is a frequent contributor. Sometimes, a child just needs time to figure out how to balance their new schedule. Don’t allow so much time that they get into a pit they can’t dig out of, though.
5. Your child is visibly worried. Another client of mine’s son decided to play soccer in addition to participating in the marching band when he entered high school. He maintained his honor-roll status, but he was always panicked about having enough time to study and do his homework. The next school year, my client told her son that he could either participate in band or soccer, but not both. He opted to participate in band and was much more relaxed.
6. An after-school activity begins to impact the rest of the family. Are you exhausted and overwhelmed? Parents often do a lot of running around to various practices, meetings, and activities during the school year, especially when they have more than one child. If you find yourself cranky and bitter that you never have time to accomplish tasks or spend quality time with your kids or your spouse, re-evaluate your family’s activities. Everyone needs to be comfortable with the after-school schedule, including you.
So, what do you do if you determine your child is doing too much? Sit down with your child and prioritize their activities. I had to do this with my daughter. She was involved in gymnastics, Girl Scouts, and guitar lessons. We were out of the house four evenings a week, plus Saturday mornings. It was too much. I told her something had to go. She was reluctant at first but after a lengthy discussion, she admitted that she didn’t really enjoy guitar lessons and found the social aspects of Girl Scouts to be overwhelming. She asked if she could drop both activities and add a second session of gymnastics instead. Now she has gymnastics one evening a week and on Saturday mornings. This schedule is much more relaxing and enjoyable, for both of us.
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed., is a mom, writer, educator, and family advocate. Find her at ramblingrach.com.
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