The Overscheduled Child
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
A quick glance at a typical family calendar tells a revealing story. Their children’s schedules are often jam-packed. Monday’s soccer practice is followed by Tuesday’s gymnastics class. Wednesday is ballet and Thursday is piano. On Friday, it’s back to the soccer field.
While some children thrive with an abundance of after-school activities, others suffer the effects of overscheduling. Their circuits become overloaded and they are candidates for shutting down and burning out. And sometimes schoolwork takes a back seat to these activities. A day filled with activities may leave the child with little time or energy to do homework.
While child-development experts acknowledge the importance of providing a rich and stimulating environment for children, they also agree that parents can do too much for their child. What can parents do who are interested in providing their child with enriching experiences without overwhelming him?
Moderation should be your watchword as you set up your child’s schedule. Bear in mind his age. Limit your three- to five-year old to one or two activities per school semester, your six- to eight-year old to two or three activities, and your nine- to 12-year old to three or four activities. Keep your child’s interests and talents uppermost as you suggest activities and avoid imposing your agenda on him. Competitive activities should be avoided prior to second grade.
Also consider what your child wants as well as what you think is practical. Reluctant children may need some gentle encouragement to pursue organized activities. Children who are initially skittish about trying an activity often end up enjoying it and even pursuing it further. Insist that he stick with the agreed-upon activity for a reasonable time before he can call it quits but at the same time don’t make him stay with an activity for six months or a year that he clearly dislikes.
Part of your job is to help your child find a balance between structured and unstructured time. Make sure there is time when his calendar is clear, some down time which belongs to him — and noone else. This is the time when he can try out a new computer game, climb a tree in the backyard, or jump rope in the driveway.
You may wish to establish some ground rules on how your child spends unstructured time. Set some limits on how long he can use the computer, watch TV or play video games. Once he has reached his limit, turn the TV off and tell him to find something else to do. Expect complaints from your child that he is bored. You might suggest some activities but don’t be lured into being his social director. He needs to learn how to deal with boredom. Eventually he will find something to do.