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Is my child involved in too many activities?

Parents naturally want their children to take advantage of every possible opportunity. The goal of many parents is very often to enrich the lives of children, and as such, activities that involve learning new skills, trying out for school sports teams and playing in a school band, for example, are encouraged. Though it is absolutely important that your child take part in extracurricular activities, it's equally important that those activities not consume his/her life. Keep in mind the current research on the matter. Studies have found that 76 percent of children today are over-scheduled.

It has been suggested that sometimes parents push children into programs and/or activities because they (the parents) feel the need to be involved themselves. What is important to realize is that it is not uncommon for a parent's encouragement to have nothing at all to do with the child's interest in being involved in a given activity. This clearly presents a problem.

Keep in mind that children who are over-scheduled may fail to develop some of the key skills that are really needed to lead a successful life. Spending too much time on structured activities, particularly at a young age, takes children away from the experience of growing up in a truly flexible environment where they have the opportunity to experience the world at their own pace.

Listed below are some common reasons why children are enrolled in extracurricular activities:

  • No other childcare arrangements. Parents enroll their children in activities to keep them occupied while they work during the week and weekends.

  • To develop natural talent. Some parents see signs of musical, athletic or artistic talent in their children and enroll them in classes to enhance this ability.

  • To develop social skills. Some parents involve their children in activities to help them improve their social skills with children of the same age.

Extracurricular activities should be scheduled in moderation, and they should be age-appropriate. These activities should be of interest to your child, and his/her schedule and lifestyle should remain well-balanced even when he/she is involved. At times your child may need to be reminded that schoolwork must take priority.

Parents should beware of signs that their children may be over-scheduled. Some of the signs include:

  • Falling behind in schoolwork

  • Headaches or stomach aches

  • Missed meals

  • Lack of sleep

  • Stress/Depression

  • Mood swings

  • Constant fatigue

If any of these signs appear, it will help to temporarily drop an activity from the schedule to give your child some space and breathing room. It is a good idea to explain that activities can be resumed at a later time once your child begins to feel better or his/her schedule frees up. This will help to teach your child that there is a clear difference between dropping out temporarily due to an overcommitted schedule and starting and stopping activities repeatedly just because he/she gets tired.

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