Today’s a society of immediacy. Can’t wait. Lots to do all the time. Instant answers and solutions. Downtime is quickly being swallowed up by social media and technology in addition to school and extracurricular activities.
Now more than ever, children have a buffet of choices when it comes to ways to spend time before and after school. Often the itinerary evolves into only minutes of free time squeezed in between clubs, sports, piano practice and school functions until you find yourself asking, “Did we bite off more than we can chew?” So, how many extracurricular activities is too many?
Stephanie Wijkstrom, founder of the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, offered some clues to look for and advice for a healthy ratio of activity/life/school balance for kids today.
Take notice of physical symptoms.
Analyze your child’s behavior — you know your child best. Is being involved in several activities beneficial or distracting? Sometimes, well-intentioned parents over-schedule their children, creating an anxiety-ridden environment. Does your child have a lot of tummy aches or headaches, or make excuses when it is time to practice? Anxiety may be causing these symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you notice these patterns in your child, it might be time to discuss whether they want to continue to participate in each activity. Or perhaps they might want to try an alternate activity that is less competitive or goal oriented.
Listen to what your child has to say about an activity.
Helping your child understand and respond to their own emotional cues might be more impactful than mastering their piano piece or perfecting their pitching technique. Many parents who want what’s best for their child insist that they should stick it out and encourage them to continue with the sport, activity or instrument. The fine art of parenting requires recognizing what is a healthy lesson in commitment and perseverance versus what is pushing past a child’s boundaries or neglecting their emotional needs.
Look at the overall schedule.
Free time is key: How does the overall schedule play out? Does your child have free time every day? How about time together as a family — to play a game, talk, color or do a puzzle together? Do you have time for conversations or are you constantly shuffling from one activity to another, eating in the car then heading to bed when you get home? If your child is overloaded with activities, they might not have the focus necessary to achieve mastery in an activity they enjoy.
For parents wanting a benchmark of how many structured activities are best, some experts recommend no more than three per week and at least 20 minutes of downtime each day. But more important than a set number is stepping back and observing your child to find a happy medium, with opportunities to try new things, play, be creative, daydream and rest.