BY CHRISTIE DEL AMO JOHNSON
What about those extracurricular activities? All parents are eager to stop over-scheduling their children as long as their children do not suffer in the process. And there’s the rub!
Between her four children’s activities, Michelle Bright of Macon keeps busy; swim lessons, summer camp, and the pool. This fall, Grady, her oldest, will play football or soccer. Six-year-old Emma is looking forward to dance, gymnastics, or cheerleading. Owen, who’s three, wants to tumble and her youngest, eighteen-month-old Eli, will join Kindermusik. She says her family has an activity to attend three or four days a week.
Bright knows how important extracurricular activities are for children, but she also knows the importance of downtime so they don’t become stressed or overworked. “The two older children are restricted to one activity per season,” she says. “For the younger two, it depends on nap schedules and how everything falls into place.”
Dan Darden, is the executive director of Christian Counseling Services in Macon. He works with children on a daily basis. He says, “Extracurricular activities are most beneficial because they bring mental, emotional, social, and relational balance to a child’s life. They are extremely valuable in developing talents and skills.” But he also says parents should be careful not to overwhelm their child with too many.
Why Are Kids So Busy?
Jenna Denisar admits she has her kids, seven-year-old Sophie and three-year-old Addie, going most of the day. “I don’t want them sitting at home doing nothing. I’d rather go from school to an activity and then come home, eat, and go to bed. If I keep them busy, I feel like I’m giving them that exercise,” she says. “I want them to have all the opportunities to find out what they’re good at.”
A KidsPoll sponsored by the National Association of Health Education Centers (NAHEC) found that out of 882 kids ages nine to 13, 41 percent said they were stressed most of the time because they have too much to do. Seventy percent said they wish they had more free time. When kids were asked who chose their extracurricular activities, 62-percent said they do. Experts say this shows parents need to help children decide how to spend their scheduled time and make sure they have time to unwind.
Darden states, “Over my 15 years of counseling, I have seen a definite increase in the number of activities made available to children—both in school and in the local community. Parents today are bombarded with temptations and pressures to get their children ‘involved’.”
Frank Mack is the executive director of the Family Counseling Center of Central Georgia, a non-profit based in Macon. When it comes to determining how much is too much, every child is different, he saya. That’s why it’s so important for parents to under stand their children and their development.
“We live in an age where we allow ourselves to get so busy. Parents need to take time to talk to their kids and have communications, so they can see changes occurring in their child,” says Mack. “If parents see behavior that’s unusual going on for more than two weeks, they need to look into it closely.”
The following are signs that your child may be “stressed out”:
•Refusal to eat or lack of sleep
•Separation anxiety or inexplicable sadness
•Withdrawing from family and friends
•Mood swings, irritability
•Falling behind on school work or grades drop
Darden says if parents don’t watch for the warning signs, childhood stress can cause big problems even into adulthood. “Emotional irregularity, physical sickness, cognitive dissonance, relational dysfunction, and social ineptness are not uncommon for adults whose childhood years were frequently distressful and absent of principles for healthy living.”
Slow It Down
Sometimes parents need to put the brakes on all the go-go-go. The key is to know your child and what they’re passionate about, but also be aware of their limitations. If parents see stress signs in their child, they should slow down and find out their worries, fears, and concerns. They may need to try talking to coaches, teachers, and friends. Visiting a child and adolescent counselor may help guide both parents and children in the right direction.
“We need to pick up on subtle things that may come out,” says Mack. “Spend time with your child. We’re so busy doing other things that spending time with kids can get left off the list.”
Here are some simple things parents can do to make sure their kids extra curricular activities stay enjoyable:
• Set Ground Rules Ahead of Time: Bright says she limits her children to one activity a season, while Denisar says whatever sport her kids start, there’s no quitting. They have to see it through the season.
• Know How Much Time It Will Take Up: Figure out how many days a week your child will have practice. How many games will they play and when? Will they have time for homework and dinner? Will homework suffer?
• Rest, Rest, Rest: Make sure your child is getting enough sleep.
• Keep a Calendar: Sometimes seeing the activities you have on paper can help you determine if you’re too busy. It’s great to leave an empty day with nothing to do.
• Create Family Time: Make together-time a priority. Schedule a day to have dinner together or go to a movie. It will also give you time to talk to your kids.
• Set Priorities: Make sure your kids know school comes first. If they’re grades start to slip, they may need to drop an activity.
• Know When to Say No: Parents know their kids best. If you think adding soccer or swim lessons to your kids schedule will be too much, tell them they may have to wait until next year.
• Partner with Other Parents: Carpooling will give you a bit of relief.
• Know When It’s OK to Quit: If your child becomes overscheduled or unhappy, quitting might be the right thing. But it’s essential to first explore the reasons for quitting and the reasons not to quit.
Experts say it is important for children to experience some level of stress because it is part of life. “Good stress (eustress) serves to help them accomplish what needs to be accomplished,” says Darden. “Stress becomes problematic (distress) when it hinders the child’s ability to do what needs to be done. The most valuable pursuit a parent can undertake is to get to know his/her child because then changes in a child’s behavior are more readily and easily identified.”