The Overscheduled Child

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What comes to mind when you think about your children and their development into successful people? Where they will go to college? Which career they might choose? Where they will live? Who they will marry? Most parents truly want “the best” for their children. But they have become confused about what that means. From music lessons to gymnastics or football, karate to Boy Scouts and tutoring, families are spending more time in the car going to and from activities than ever before.

Several factors contribute to the tendency to overschedule our children. Overall, parents now are better educated than prior generations, and they have far, far more resources available to them. Parents come to this job with no experience, so they parent with the same sort of intensity with which we manage our careers. Unfortunately, skills that are effective in the workplace do not always lead to better parenting decisions.

The media informs us quickly, although not always accurately, of the newest research for children’s diets, development, social and academic skills – even what parents can or should do for babies before they are born. Moms and Dads have been persuaded to believe that participation in these enrichment activities will help build their children’s future résumés and assist them in getting into the best colleges, leading to excellent jobs, financial stability and happiness. Parents must remember that not all new research bears the test of time, and trends apply to parenting as well as to fashion and home décor. Trust your own parenting instincts, and spend more time with your children instead of surfing the Internet to figure out how to be better parents. There is not one, exactly right way to parent a child. Some children can tolerate numerous activities; others become stressed more easily without “down time.”

How Do You Know If Your Child is Overscheduled?

Does your child:

seem consistently resentful or irritable when leaving home for an activity?
need to stay up late to complete homework?
have difficulty falling asleep or seem stressed?
say he is bored when no activity is scheduled?
complain of not enough time to hang out with friends or just relax?
seldom have dinner or other activities with the family?

In his book The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld says that children need free play time to explore the world at their own pace and to develop their own unique set of interests. When children are too stressed and anxious, they may not form connections with parents and friends that help to build true self esteem. Being overscheduled can also result in children worrying about performance pressure and burning out early on activities they once enjoyed.

Tips for Re-balancing Your Family Schedule

Write down each family member and their current regularly scheduled activities. Evaluate each activity with the questions: What about this activity enriches his life? Is there another way to obtain that goal that involves less time, stress and/or money? You may also ask your child how much she enjoys that activity at this point in time.
How much does one child’s activities affect the other family members? For example, is the youngest in the car for hours while mom chauffeurs the older siblings?
Include regular family time on the calendar as one of your scheduled activities, for example, Friday night video & popcorn, game night, a walk or bike ride.

As you look at your own activities, remember that your children see and will imitate your example. Spend your time living the values that are important to you, and your family will reap the long-term benefits of more play time, individually and together.

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