By Alicia Rohan
With school in full swing, it brings with it after-school activities, which can lead to a balancing act of schedules for kids and parents. Hours of practicing their favorite sport, learning a new musical instrument, and the list goes on. With this in mind, it’s important to stress that parents carefully evaluate a child’s interest in after-school schedules.
“Busy schedules have become a part of our culture,” said Josh Klapow, a Ph.D. clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “As much as we would like to keep our children active and engaged, overscheduling is simply not right for them or parents.
An overbooked family spends little time together, is usually worn out and stressed, and tends to argue, creating a fine line between being busy and overdoing it. Klapow suggests setting house rules, educating kids about activities and their choices, balancing adult and youth activities, establishing family time, and recognizing that downtime is just as important. “When children are overbooked with activities, it could lead to over-enrichment and exhaustion. It is important that you listen to your kids and pay attention to warning signs that they are doing too much,” Klapow said.
If you have a busy schedule and your kids are displaying any of these physical and cognitive signs, there is a good chance they are being extended too far:
• Easily distracted
• A headache and stomachache complaints
• Having a tough time keeping their grades up
The question for many parents becomes “how do you keep your busy schedule in check?” As a parent, ask yourself these questions:
• How many hours per week should be spent on extracurricular activities?
• What activities is your child interested in?
• What will your child’s homework load look like?
• Is it practical to have more than one activity per season?
• What are the means of transportation to and from each activity?
• What are your activities, and how do these play into scheduling?
• What are your commitments professionally?
Klapow recommends laying out ground rules before making commitments, such as playing only one sport or activity per season or no more than two practices per week. Set priorities and expectations for schoolwork and obtaining good grades.
Having a conversation with children about activities is important. Make sure they know what they are signing up for and the expectations of coaches and peers. Talks about time commitment are necessary, accurately expressing how this could cut into their social time with friends. Schedule time for homework to ensure it fits within the planned activities. “Be upfront with your kids,” Klapow said. “If the activities require that the child is at practice right after school, note that this will cut into their play time with their friends, as homework will need to be completed when they get home before dinner.”
A difficult decision for a parent can be allowing your child to quit an activity. It is important to teach children to commit to something and follow through. But, if a child doesn’t want to participate in an extracurricular activity, it is important to have a conversation with them about why they want to quit, examine other events and what is going on in their life and make a decision together.
Klapow suggests, “allowing each child to participate in one sport per season, one musical/art endeavor, and one social/ religious activity to maintain a steady schedule. But listen to your child, if they seem cranky, tired and they are protesting, it is time to reevaluate and make decisions to fit your child and your schedule.”
Parents have to balance activities for their children and themselves. As a parent, consideration for a child’s activity should be taken from a personal perspective, including getting the child to and from practice, attending games or recitals, and making sure the child is performing the activity well with additional practice at home. Parents also need to consider their schedules and commitments at work.
“If you are unable to transport to and from practice or ensure top performance, who will take care of these responsibilities and what does their schedule look like?” Klapow asks. “As parents layout the responsibilities to their child, their responsibilities should be taken into consideration along with those of any others that help care for their children.”
Also, parents should carve out time for their activities they enjoy, as well as opportunities to stay healthy. Find a chance to socialize with other adults, make downtime for recovery from work commitments and time to organize schedules and plan for the week. “Driving your health into the ground to accommodate your child’s schedule is simply not a smart thing to do,” Klapow said.
Parents need to set aside family time at the very least, one night a week. Eating dinner together or playing a card game, a time when everyone living in the house sits down to spend quality time together. “It’s critical that everyone in the house be a part of family time,” Klapow said. “If your family does not sit down for one meal together each week, then you are overbooked. This time is critical to developing bonds as a family.” Downtime offers a chance for parents and children to relax, reflect on the day or just do nothing. Children should have at least 60 minutes of downtime per week to allow for creative, emotional and mental development.
“We live in a very busy world and, of course, want the best for our kids,” Klapow said. “Sometimes the best means less.”
The University of Alabama at Birmingham is an internationally renowned research university and academic medical center; its professional schools and specialty patient-care programs are consistently ranked among the nation’s top 50. UAB’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science is advancing innovative discoveries for better health as a two-time recipient of the prestigious Center for Translational Science Award. Find more information at uab.edu and uabmedicine.org.