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The Danger of Overscheduling Your Kids

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The Danger of Overscheduling Your Kids

I am a parent of three children aged 8, 6, and 6. Like many parents, I struggle with knowing the right balance of activities for them. I don’t want my kids to miss out on opportunities to play sports and participate in activities that will enhance their lives and help them grow as individuals. However, I also don’t want them to become overscheduled kids, to the extent that they get worn out and stressed out.

There is a balance in providing activities for our children and overscheduling them. The tendency for the latter is prevalent these days. Our lives — and the lives of our kids — are increasingly overscheduled and overworked. Thus, we need to understand the dangers of having overscheduled kids and how to prevent this from happening in our own families.

What’s Wrong with Overscheduling Your Kids?

1. Overscheduling Can Burn Out Our Kids

When our kids are on the go and scheduled to the max from a young age, their potential to get burned out before reaching high school is quite high. The New York Times reported some research on burnout and found that burnout with kids relates to their workload, along with their parents’ propensity to experience it.[1] This means that overworked children are more likely to get burned out than others. Similarly, overscheduled parents tend to have overscheduled kids more often than not.

Burnout

When a person is burned out, they feel overwhelmed and exhausted by what others expect them to get done daily. Children who are involved in too many activities with little to no downtime have a high chance of experiencing burnout. When parents place too many expectations on their kids, they also have an increased potential to burn out.

If you get the sense that your child is feeling overworked or overwhelmed by their daily activities, you need to know which ones can be cut back. If they have too many activities outside of school work, for instance, then that is one area that likely needs to be downsized.

An overworked child will present various symptoms like moodiness, irritability, crankiness, despondency, anger, stomach aches, headaches, rebellion, etc. Cutting back their activities will help to relieve their stress and reduce the said burnout signs. If your kid has severe burnout symptoms, though, then professional help from a pediatrician or therapist for children should be sought.

Downtime

Downtime is key to helping relieve burnout. If children don’t have free time during the day to have any rest, they are more likely to become burned out than others. Downtime means unorganized free time to do what they enjoy or relax. Cut back your kids’ extra-curricular activities if they don’t have downtime in their schedule.

Here are more tips on creating downtime for the children: How to Create Downtime for Kids.

2. Overscheduling Kills Playtime and Creativity

Kids need time to be kids. When their schedules are filled every day with activities like organized ballet, soccer, and music lessons, and they only take a break for dinner and bedtime, then they are overscheduled. They need to have free time after school to relax and play. When they don’t have that and proceed from one scheduled activity to the next, they are missing out on playtime.

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Playtime is crucial to child development. If they cannot get enough time to play, then their ability to develop their creativity decreases. The Genius of Play explains that there are six major developmental benefits that children get from playtime:[2]

  • Creativity
  • Social skill development
  • Cognitive development
  • Physical development (i.e., balance, coordination)
  • Communication skills
  • Emotional development

If children don’t have time to play because they are always on-the-go, then they are missing out on the developmental benefits of play.

Children need downtime after school so that they can unwind, play, and decompress. Research from the Journal of Early Childhood Development and Care showed that kids need to play to deal with anxiety, stress, and worry.[3] Playtime provides an outlet for them to manage these emotions in a healthy manner and helps with the development of their creativity.

Children need free time to play every day. Fifteen minutes at recess is not enough. They need time for it after school, at home, outside of the constraints of scheduled activities.

Solution

Ensure that your child has time to play after school. This is especially important for young children who greatly benefit from playing. Limit organized activities so that your child is not scheduled every day and can play after school. If they have an activity every hour, then it doesn’t allow for playtime.

3. Overscheduling Causes Stress and Pressure

When kids are overscheduled because their parents are so intent on having high-performing children, then they will feel stressed. Parental pressure upon a child to do well in academics, music, multiple sports, and religious studies is a reality for many kids. The children scheduled in all of these activities can often feel stress and pressure, especially when they are expected to succeed in all of them.

It is hard enough for kids to be good or succeed at a single activity. For a parent to overschedule their child and expect superior performance in various activities, that is a recipe for a stressed-out child.

Solution

Parents should not schedule kids in multiple activities with the expectation of superior performance in all. They should also consider the child’s interests. If the child is not interested in one activity, then they are likely to feel stressed and pressured to do it.

For example, if Suzy has been taking piano lessons for four years, and she no longer enjoys learning the instrument, then perhaps it is time to take a break. If Suzy is forced to continue with the lessons and daily practices, then she may feel pressured to continue performing simply because her mom wants her to do so. This can lead Suzy to resent her mother for forcing her to keep on doing something that she doesn’t like anymore.

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Let your child help in selecting the activities that they get involved in. Also, put a cap on the number of activities they are doing. If they have a different activity every weekday, then they are likely overscheduled.

Kids need downtime and time to play, too. If they need to do a new activity every day, that downtime is diminished, considering the time at home or outside of the scheduled activities is limited. This limited time is then filled with homework, mealtime, and bedtime prep. Eliminating activities several days a week will allow the child to have some time to play freely. The younger the kid is, the more time they need playtime. As they get older, they can take on more activities; however, under the age of 13, playing daily is a must for children.

4. Healthy Eating Falls by the Wayside

Any parent who’s busy chauffeuring multiple kids to different activities after school knows how tempting fast food can become. Fast food, however, leads to less healthy food choices. French fries and hamburgers — the staple combo in most fast-food joints — cannot help your child thrive nutritionally.

When families are overscheduled, they tend to go for easy and quick meals. When rushed, many of us make poor food choices because we aren’t taking the time to think about a meal’s nutritional value and a balanced diet for our children.

5. Family Mealtimes Become a Thing of the Past

When we are taking our kids to sports and other extra-curricular activities that fall during dinnertime, the family often misses out on sharing a meal at home.

This is true in our own home. There are certain nights of the week that we have practices, and so we either eat together early (if possible) or eat separately, depending on what our schedules allow.

There is so much value in having family dinners. It provides an opportunity for family members to discuss their day, including their work and school activities. It is a time when technology is set aside so that everyone can truly focus on communicating with one another and catching up on what is happening in each other’s lives. When a kid’s activities are scheduled every evening, then that family time at the dining table gets lost. Dinnertime becomes a thing of the past as we overschedule kids and ourselves.

Try learning more about family time here: How to Maximize Family Time? 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Immediately.

Solution

Assess our schedule during the week to ensure that there’s always time for dinner with the family. Make it a point to establish a dinnertime schedule for the evenings that you do not have prior engagements scheduled. Remember: the time that you have with your kids under your roof is fleeting. Before long, they will be grownups and start living on their own. You need not dismiss or minimize the opportunity to bond with your children over meals.

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Having family mealtimes also allows you to make excellent food choices. This way, parents can create balanced and healthy meals and teach their children about the importance of eating good food for their bodies.

How to Turn Things Around?

1. Fix the Displaced Ambitions

Parents with overscheduled kids often mean well. They want their children to succeed, so they give them every chance to make it happen. They sign them up for various lessons, sports, and activities that may help the kids find success in life.

In other cases, the parent probably didn’t get such opportunities when they were young and felt that they missed out on many things. Hence, they provide those missed opportunities to their kids during their own childhood.

Carla is an example of such a parent. Carla always wanted to take dance and ballet classes as a child. She heard her friends talk about dance classes and performances, and they would even bring recital photos to school, showing their beautiful, detailed costumes. Carla wanted to be in those dance classes and learn ballet and have the opportunity to perform in a beautiful costume in front of an audience. Unfortunately, her family could not afford to give her that opportunity.

When Carla gave birth to a baby girl, she had visions of her little one growing big enough to take dance, ballet, and even tap classes someday. She was looking forward to dressing her daughter in dance costumes and watching her take lessons and eventually performing in recitals. When Carla’s daughter Anna was old enough to enroll at a dance class at four years old, she was thrilled. However, after a few months, it became clear that Anna was not enjoying these classes. She would cry before every lesson, begging Carla to let her stay home and not go to class. Her daughter had no interest in learning to dance.

In truth, it happens to many parents. They would enroll their kid in an activity that they wanted to do as a child but never got to try. Unfortunately, a parent’s interest is not always the same as that of their kids’. The child may humor mom or dad for some time and do the activity out of compliance. But if the child does not enjoy it anymore, they will eventually make things clear to their parents.

Parents should listen to their children. If the activity is something that they do not enjoy doing, ask the children what they think they would like to do, and then eliminate activities that they are not into. Similarly, teach them commitment by finishing a program, but don’t enroll them again in the same class if they absolutely do not want to do it.

Let the kids try different activities at a young age. Sometimes they don’t know if they like something until they try it out.

2. Try Clinics of Camps Before Committing

Don’t enroll your child in three sports at the same time to see which one they like or excel at. Doing so will make your kid overscheduled. Instead, you can use the summer break or preseason camps or clinics to try a variety of activities they are interested in.

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As an example, all three of my children said that they wanted to do lacrosse. We had already tried soccer, and it was not successful for two out of three of them. They would rather chase butterflies down the field or play tag than actually participate in their games. Therefore, before committing to lacrosse and spending a great deal of money on their gear, I signed them up for a sample clinic. It was a one-day program that intended to expose children to the sport and see if they would perhaps enjoy playing it. I was surprised to find that the three kids enjoyed lacrosse, so we signed up for the season. It was nice to be able to see them try out the sport in a clinic before committing to an entire season.

Most towns and cities have parks and recreation department. This is often a good place to check for clinics and camps for various activities. Our local department even offers art and dance classes. Most of them meet between two and four times total, so the children can get some exposure to the activity before signing them up at a private facility for a more long-term commitment.

3. Take an Inventory of Your Weekly Activities

Often, we do an activity without reflecting on how much we are already committed to doing each week. Before we commit to any more activities, we must be willing to look at everything that each family member does. Every child’s commitment is another responsibility for the parent as well. Parents must take children to and from each practice, so you need to consider the drive time for any activity.

For instance, if each of my three kids signed up for three different activities each week, I would be running myself ragged. Three activities for three kids means taking them to nine activities during the week. That doesn’t include the games that will likely be scheduled on the weekends. Three activities for every child, therefore, is too much for our family.

If some practices overlap on the schedule, then you need two parents or responsible adults to transport the children to different locations. Before you sign them up for multiple activities, you need to factor downtime, stress levels, and your ability to take them to each activity in the equation.

Consider the following before your kids can commit to various activities:

  • What is the time commitment for the child each week? Do they have enough energy and stamina for the activities? Do they get enough downtime daily to prevent burnout?
  • Is practice time required outside of their scheduled team practices and games?
  • How long is the travel time for you as a parent, along with wait time during practices? Do you have time allowances for these activities in your own schedule?
  • Does the activity time conflict with other activities on the schedule? Will it eliminate family dinners on a regular basis?
  • Does the child really want to do the activity?
  • What is the motivation for signing up for the activity?
  • Is this activity or commitment going to cause a great deal of stress on the child or other family members?

Check out these time-management tips for parents: 10 Time Management Tips Every Busy Parent Needs to Know.

Get The Kids Active and Involved!

Despite everything, it does not mean that you shouldn’t sign your child up for different activities like sports, music, dance, karate, etc. They are all great activities that can help children develop a variety of valuable life skills. The goal is to enroll them in things that they genuinely enjoy and avoid overscheduling kids by not letting them sign up for too many activities at a time.

More Tips for Scheduling Kids’ Activities

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on September 24, 2021

How to Teach Children About Respect When They’re Small

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How to Teach Children About Respect When They’re Small

When we enter into the journey of being a parent, we go through a rollercoaster of thoughts, looking a little ahead and worrying about keeping our kids safe. There’s that loop about wanting to be able to provide for them, giving our kids the things we wanted but could not have. But there’s also this nagging worry at the back of our minds about what will happen when our kids become teenagers. Do you remember Kevin and Perry and the moment Kevin turned 13 years old? Kevin went on the spot from this great kid to a monster that talked down to his parents all of the time.

Think back to what you were like as a teenager. Was there a power struggle with your parents or was there mutual respect? The idea of having our kids respect us is usually at the back of our minds while our kids are young. It’s not usually a problem. Outside the occasional tantrums, there are just rainbows and unicorns. Learning about respect is probably less important than learning to tie shoelaces, right? Hell, no!

The reality is that respect is one of the most important values that a young child can learn. It can help build good friendships with other children in the neighborhood and at school. Learning to be a little more tolerant of differences makes them more understanding when people do not act or behave as your kids expect them to. Respect helps children to focus more in class. Most importantly of all, it can build a stronger relationship with the immediate family.

These are all qualities we want for our kids, and they are also the qualities of a leader. Teaching respect to our kids sounds great. But first, what is it and how do we teach children about respect?

What Is Respect?

Respect is a way of recognizing and appreciating the rights, beliefs, practices, and differences of other people. It’s a little more than just being tolerant of other people. It’s a feeling that comes from within about how you should treat other people. It’s about how you should think about yourself, too. More recently, respect has also become more visible with the idea of respecting other people’s personal space due to the pandemic.

When our kids apply respect, they’ll make better decisions and avoid things or people that will hurt them. They are more likely to take care of the gifts that you’ve bought for them. Most importantly, they are more likely to earn respect from their parents as they become teenagers, rather than demanding it.

How Do We Teach Children About Respect?

My personal opinion is that you should not outsource teaching respect to other people. As parents, we have to own this responsibility. Even from a young age, there are a lot of poor influences on our kid’s attitude towards respect, such as terrible role models in the movies like Frozen. In this movie, Elsa takes no responsibility for managing her powers, hurts her sister and kingdom, and avoids demonstrating any respect throughout the story. So, where to start with teaching children about respect?

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1. Teach Your Children About Sharing

My earliest memory where I learned respect was at the age of four. I had an incredible red trike. It was epic, has a custom design, has faster wheels, and a decent steering lock. Then, one day, my dad took the trike and handed it over to my nursery. Other children were using it! This was a culture shock as it was one of my favorite things, but now I had to share it. It took a little time, but I was okay with the sharing as my dad rewarded me with cake for sharing.

Sharing is one of the best ways to teach kids about respect. Our kids learn that if we give a little to others, we can sometimes get some of what we want as well. Kids will watch what the parents do. At the dinner table, do they pass things around like the ketchup or share items of food? Or does everyone have their phones out, sit in a silo, and quickly disperse? The dinner table is a great place to learn about sharing, but so are playing games with the kids.

Playing games like Lego is a great way to introduce sharing and respect. You can build a tower together, something simple and fun, and take turns adding pieces onto the building or swapping pieces if you are building your own world instead.

2. Let Your Children Answer for Themselves

My job is as a martial arts coach, which is a fun job, by the way. We’ll get to this in a minute, but I wanted to share a really common observation that we see at the academy.

When children come for their first class, they may be as young as four years old or as old as 12 in our kids’ programs. All the coaches are interested in why the kids want to try a class and what the parents want their child to learn. When we first meet a child, we’ll get down to their height level, as it’s not respectful to tower over the young kids and talk down.

Now we’re at eye level, we’ll smile, greet the child by their name, and ask them a question like “who is your favourite superhero?” so we can build a little rapport before the bigger questions. After only a few seconds, the parents will often step in and answer for them.

This can happen regardless of whether their child is four or 12 years old. To be honest with ourselves, we’ve probably all done this at some time with our kids and even our partners. It’s well-intentioned, but the problem is that when we step in.

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We’re not showing our kids respect, as we’re not valuing their opinions. It may be that it just takes them longer to have their say in a new situation. We rescue our kids because we think of them as shy or low in confidence. But if we’re doing this a lot, we’re stopping the flow of respect.

Let them struggle, let them think for themselves, and show them some patience. They won’t always reply, but you’ll be amazed to see that they’ll persevere more often than not to communicate in their preferred way.

The problem is that when we interject for our kids, two things can happen:

  • We reinforce that their opinion isn’t valued, and/or;
  • We rescue the less socially confident (shy) children from an uncomfortable situation that inhibits them from developing skills for the future.

Instead of jumping in to do things for our kids or answer for them, let them answer, struggle, and think for themselves. You’ll be amazed at how their sense of personal significance will grow. When children are more confident and capable—even in uncomfortable situations—the respect will flow more freely.

The secret is not to make a big deal of it, whether they speak up or not. But let them have a little time to try, then continue if there’s no progress this time. Maybe next time, there will be progress as their confidence grows.

3. The Role Model Soapbox

Of all the ways that we can teach respect, leading by example is the hardest. Let’s face it, we all think that our kids should “just do as I say, not as I do.” But it rarely works like this in life.

I remember taking my daughter out to a pub for lunch when she was of an age that she still used a high chair. We were meeting a friend of mine as he was having a few problems at home and wanted to catch up and chat. Hannah, my daughter, was served first at the pub with her lunch, myself next, and my friend who we’ll call Dave was served last. We were just about to start eating when Dave looked at his food, slapped the plate back at the waitress, and shouted “It’s the wrong order, go fix it now!”

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Dave was tired and stressed, it’s why we were meeting up. However, it’s not an excuse to be a lousy role model not having empathy, respect, and self-control in front of Hannah. In this instance, I felt the need to apologize to the waitress and so did Dave.

However, I appreciate that we all have those times in our lives, like Dave, when everything is going wrong. It’s easy to say, “you should stay calm, stay in control and show understanding to others.” But the reality is that the actions we should take are simple to talk about but harder to put into practice. But we have to try and find the energy to show our kids some respect and dig deep for those times that we need the energy to be patient.

Give Your Child a Little Patience

Many times, when our kids are behaving “out of sort,” they’ve just forgotten or missed the cue to show the right behavior. We’ve all been so deep into a task that we’ve missed our name being called or we’ve been tired and replied in a poor way out of instinct. A little patience with our kids is sometimes needed if this is the case. It’s the right way to demonstrate respect to them—asking good questions, especially if they mess up, rather than snapping and demanding that they listen the first time. We’re their parent, after all, they should do as they are told!

You’re going to experience when your child says “I hate you” or “wish you were not my mum or dad.” You may even hear this from your kids when they are as young as four years old. Remember the movie I was talking about? Kids will mimic what they see and hear. It does not mean that they really meant the words they just used. It’s usually just a gut response when angry. You can reply, “what made you feel like this?” They will usually feel better and get a more useful response than when you use “go to your room, now!”

So, leading by example is a little more than being a role model. It’s also showing your kids respect and treating them as a person rather than trying to completely control them and finding patience. This sounds like hard work, so maybe a little outsourcing of teaching children about respect is okay.

A Little Outsourcing May Be a Good Thing

I mentioned that you should not outsource teaching respect, but some activities can make a big difference. Yes, I’m about to contradict myself and talk about martial arts. When you think of martial arts, men in white pajamas bowing to each other, kneeling, and listening patiently to the sensei “teacher” often come to mind.

Many martial arts clubs have moved on to t-shirts and jogging style trousers but kept the rituals that help build respect and character. There are a lot of routines within the martial arts that are great habits for kids to learn, which will guide them in learning about respect.

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Training with a partner also helps improve yourself. It teaches your kid about being responsible for their uniform, training equipment, and even the academy. Our students all help clean the mats that they train on, tidy equipment away after each activity, and stand quietly at attention. These are great life lessons that teach your children respect as well.

Only 3 Ways to Teach Respect? Is That All You Have to Do?

We all want to teach our children about respect because we know it’s going to help them be more successful and happier in life. There isn’t an age that’s too early to start the learning. Sharing is an approach that you can start at a young age, but it’s okay to value your child’s needs, too. So, if they have a favorite toy and do not want to share it, this is okay as long as they’re sharing overall.

Next, let your child answer for themselves. To be honest, this is the hardest as the silence can get uncomfortable, but you have to persevere and let them try to answer for themselves. This small activity makes a big difference in the long run and kids get better as they grow in confidence.

Lastly, there’s the “role model soap box.” It’s probably the strongest influence on our kids at an early age as they look up to their parents a lot. Just remember that for those days when you feel cranky and tired, practice a little patience, and if you get something wrong, you may need to apologize.

You can always outsource some of your kids’ learning to a great activity, such as martial arts. If you’re going down this route, look for a club that has a character development program. You’ll find that the lessons on respect are more direct rather than being just implied through traditions and rituals. My final remark on teaching children about respect is that if you have kids that are strong visual and audible learners, try to take advantage of them. Sesame Street has some great video lessons on the topic that can help.

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Featured photo credit: Adrià Crehuet Can via unsplash.com

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