A quick glance at a typical family calendar tells a revealing story. The 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 an overscheduled existence. Their circuits become overloaded and they become candidates for burning out and shutting down. 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 who are interested in providing their child with enriching experiences without overwhelming him do?
Moderation should be your watchword. The first factor to bear in mind is his age. Limit your 3–5-year-old to one or two activities per school semester, your 6–8-year-old to two or three activities, and your 9–12-year-old to three or four activities. Keep your child’s interests and talents uppermost as you suggest activities, and avoid imposing your agenda. 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 that he clearly dislikes for six months or a year.
Part of your job is to make sure there is time when your child’s calendar is clear, some down time which belongs to him—and no one 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. Expect complaints, 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.
Dr. Kenneth Shore is a family and school psychologist: drkennethshore.nprinc.com.
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