Sometimes it’s a balancing act just to fit everything in …

The average school-aged child is scheduled in back-to-back activities from the moment the final bell rings until the second they get to bed. While extra-curricular activities are important for social development, sometimes there is a fine line between what’s fun and what’s overwhelming.

Adults feel the need for kids to have a set schedule to prevent too much down time, with fear that too much down time correlates to trouble. Older children, particularly high school-aged children, may also be hyper-sensitive to the college application process and feel that they need to be participating in an endless number of activities to be competitive in today’s application process. Unfortunately, by having little to no down time, children and teens are not given the opportunity to explore and learn on their own. This goes without mentioning that family time becomes increasingly more limited, as family dinners are usually missed to accommodate for additional activities.

So, what are some signs that your child is over-scheduled and should cut back:

1) They constantly seem to be fighting a cold or sickness.

Kids who are too busy and don’t have enough time to relax most likely aren’t getting enough sleep, making them susceptible to catching whatever is floating through the school system that particular week.

2) They complain about headaches, stomach aches, tiredness, etc.

Skipped meals, meals eaten on the run, and lack of adequate sleep can all be factors here. Depression and anxiety also play a role in the physiological response of the body, and students who are over-scheduled are undoubtedly stressed enough to produce signs of anxiety and/or depression.

3) Rushing through homework, leaving assignments incomplete, or avoiding school altogether.

When homework takes a backseat to the scheduled activities on a nightly basis, red flags should be flying. Education should be front and center in your child’s life. By saying, “finish it later, we have to leave now” or “do it in the car on the way there,” you are sending the message that education is not as important as whatever activity you are shuffling them off to. In addition, kids who are over-booked may begin to avoid school and the work related to school.

4) You feel like a cab driver, shuttling your child(ren) from one activity to the next.

If you begin to notice that you spend most afternoons behind the wheel, you should begin to question how many activities your child should participate in. Constantly shuttling your kids back and forth, sitting in traffic, and playing a balancing act can take a toll on your own health and wellbeing as well.

Tips for balancing activities and education

No parent likes to be the bad guy and tell the kids no, but sometimes, it needs to be done. Prior to the start of a new sports season, discuss the requirements of participation: how many practices are there per week, how many games/meets per week, time commitment, etc. By making your child a partner in the decision-making process, your child will feel respected, and more likely to agree that sometimes it’s just too much.

When setting priorities with your children, make sure education is number one on the list. Homework, studying, projects, etc. take precedence over any recital, match, or extra-curricular class. While you don’t want to pay for a sport only to have your child miss more than half of the season, make sure they understand that it is OK to say that they have too much homework for the night and just can’t go to practice one day.

Be sure to schedule family time into the schedule, which is just as important as their education. Have a family ritual – maybe movie night, or game night – that your kids look forward to, and be sure to stick to the schedule. There are always enough distractions to pull families apart, but spending time relaxing with your children is incredibly important to their development.