By Rachael Moshman
Back to school means a return to extracurricular activities for many children. Some children are out of the house nearly every night of the week. I have worked with children and families as a resource coordinator and mentor for many years. When parents come to me with academic or behavioral concerns regarding their children, I quickly ask about their activities 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. Football, cheerleading, dance, gymnastics, lacrosse, horseback riding, art, drama, Scouting, ecology clubs and language lessons are just a few of the options available in my small town. 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 young students.
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 just relax.
So 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.
A change in the 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.
They don’t seem to be enjoying the activity
Kerrie’s eight-year-old daughter was rude and argumentative on the days she had dance lessons. She realized that her daughter didn’t enjoy the twice a week, two hour lessons and didn’t know how to tell her. She was relieved when Kerrie gave her permission to stop.
Signs that their activities are getting in the way of their rest include:
• Falling asleep at mealtime
• Difficulty waking up in the morning
• Napping on the way to activities
• Nodding off in class
• General sluggishness
Grades start to drop
I always advise parents to take a look at what has changed whenever grades plummet. An increase in after school activities is a frequent contributor. Sometimes a child simply 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.
They are visibly worried
Stephanie’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 homework. The next school year, Stephanie told him he could do either band or soccer, but not both. He opted for band and was much more relaxed.
Stressful impact on the rest of the family
Are you exhausted and overwhelmed? Mom and Dad 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, reevaluate your family’s activities. Everyone needs to be comfortable with the 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 morning. 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.