6 Signs Your Child is Overscheduled
Parents often wonder how many extracurricular activities their child should participate in. While some parents take their children to a different activity after school every day, others forgo them entirely. So, what’s the optimal number of activities and how can parents tell when their child is overscheduled?
“The right number of activities for a child comes down to their age and your budget,” says Educational and Developmental Psychologist Dr Kimberley O’Brien. “During kindergarten and Year 1 when they're still adjusting to long school days, one activity is fine. Think about essentials such as swimming. When they’re in Year 2, you might increase to two activities depending on how many children you have and the location of the activities. Families tend to have a higher budget when children are older, so you might start to think about doing three different activities in Year 6 or 7.”
But what happens if your child seems overwhelmed halfway through the term? “Encourage your child to stick it out until the end of the term before making a decision,” says Dr Kimberley. “Consider it as an experiment and if you realise they have too many activities, you can adjust next term. But if your child is really struggling, you might decide that it’s better for them to pull out mid-term. Their wellbeing is the priority.”
Dr Kimberley also encourages parents to be the judges when it comes to deciding on the number of activities their child can handle. “Sometimes children will ask to do several activities like their older siblings or their friends, but it’s important to consider their developmental stage,” she explains. “You’re the best judge of their irritability and tiredness, so factor in some downtime at home to help them feel calm and settled.”
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Watch our short video in which Dr Kimberley discusses how parents are finding a better balance after the pandemic and how overscheduling can sometimes be mistaken for behavioural issues.
Not sure whether your child is overscheduled? Here are six signs it might be time to cut down on extracurricular activities.
1. Your child is showing signs of stress
While older children might be able to recognise when they’re stressed and tell you directly, younger ones generally don’t have that self-awareness yet. Instead of relying on your child to tell you when they’re overwhelmed, be on the lookout for a few telltale signs.
“Signs of stress in children include nail biting or picking their skin,” says Dr Kimberley. “Negative self-talk is another important one, such as when a child says things like, ‘I’m hopeless’ after participating in an activity. You should also look out for irritability and forgetfulness, such as forgetting their sport uniform.”
2. Your child has sleep issues
When children are overscheduled, they can become tired or lethargic. “Children need more sleep than adults, so try to make sure they go to bed early and get a full night’s sleep when they have activities on the next day,” says Dr Kimberley. “They should also have a meal or snack before activities to ensure they have enough energy.”
If your child still seems exhausted despite all these efforts, it might be time to cut back on their number of activities or reduce the amount of time they spend training or practising.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, overscheduling can leave some children wired and unable to sleep. “When children have so many things to think about and several plans for the next day, they can struggle to get to sleep,” says Dr Kimberley. “Some high-energy children might seem like they need to do a ton of activities to burn off that energy, but it can have the opposite effect and leave them wired which can affect their sleep patterns.”
3. Your parent-child relationship is impacted
If you start to notice that your relationship with your child is suffering because of their busy schedule, it could be time to make some adjustments.
“When you’re constantly rushing from one place to the next, you’re running late, you can’t find parking and your child can’t find their shoes, the parent-child relationship is put under stress,” says Dr Kimberley. “If you find yourself arguing with your child or they’ve become distant and withdrawn from you, it could be a sign they’re overscheduled.”
4. Your child pushes boundaries
“A child who doesn’t want to be at their soccer practice might roll around on the grass and daydream,” says Dr Kimberley. “Their disengagement could be mistaken by parents or coaches as behavioural issues, so it’s important to be on the lookout for this sign rather than make threats and give consequences.”
Some children may also withdraw from activities because they have sensory issues, so it’s important to rule that out too. “It can be difficult for children with sensory issues to focus when there’s background noise, especially in indoor venues where there’s a lot of echoing, shouting or whistling,” says Dr Kimberley. “If you’re unsure whether this is an issue for your child, you can have them assessed by a child psychologist.”
5. Your child cries before activities
While it’s not unusual for children to have the occasional teary moment before an activity, parents should take heed if it happens frequently and avoid putting pressure on their child when it does.
“When kids are really emotional, it's important to not put them in a social context because it can be humiliating and undermine their friendships,” says Dr Kimberley. “Instead, take a breather, go for a walk and teach them how to calm down and regroup. Try to avoid putting pressure on them by saying things like, ‘We paid for the term, so you have to go.’” Let them have that session off and tell them that you're going to figure it out together. It’s a great opportunity for both children and parents to practice emotional regulation.”
6. Your child has performance anxiety
“Sometimes, when kids are overscheduled, they start to question their ability to learn new skills and feel like they’re not good at anything,” says Dr Kimberley. “They might start to withdraw from the activities in which they're not excelling or don't see progress. This is a good opportunity to talk about growth mindset and to teach your child that they have to practice and be flexible to learn new skills.
“If your child’s performance anxiety gets to the level where it's impacting their self-esteem, you might consider some one-on-one lessons with a coach to take the pressure of being in the public eye off them. But if the problem persists, you should probably drop the activity for your child’s wellbeing.”
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