Is Your Family Suffering From Over-Scheduling? Know the Warning Signs!
Trying to schedule a play date, I find myself explaining, "Well, Monday morning is swim. Monday afternoon is free unless we have Daisies. Tuesday morning is okay but afternoon is Mandarin. Wednesday is dance, Thursday is piano and gymnastics, Friday is chess..." No five year old should have an activity, sometimes two, every day of the week.
How did I get here? I know better. As an educational consultant, I advise people that young children need fresh air and hugs and lots of open-ended exploration more than they need organized teams, classes, and activities.
For me, mainly, I said "yes" too often to activities my daughter is excited about doing. She is the type of kid who likes planned activities. Maybe I find myself sympathizing with her as I recall my own schedule of horseback riding, karate, flute, piano, dance, art, drama, mock trial, and newspaper.
And when else can you experiment and discover if your true passion is speed skating or oboe playing?
These are all very low-pressure activities and I cannot even imagine the schedules of children in competitive activities, like the kids on Dance Moms! Thankfully we are not at the "hours at the studio" stage in any of her activities. I am not sure I am ready for that level of commitment!
Even so, there are definitely signs that we're on overload.
Here are some symptoms of over-scheduling:
- Your budget is hurting: With cutbacks in schools, most of these "extras" are coming out of parents' pockets. Yes, we all want our kids to have every advantage but something has to give at some point. If you are spending big bucks for travel teams, costumes, and supplies, you are just going to have to say "no" sometimes.
- Your little team player becomes overly competitive: We all like to win. And almost all kids go through a period when they have trouble being a gracious loser. If your child suddenly becomes more focused on results rather than the joy of the activity, however, it may be time to refocus, recover, and relax.
- You can't remember where you are supposed to be: When you find yourself driving to hockey and realize you were really supposed to be on your way to violin lessons, it is time to turn in your chauffeur's license and spend more time at home. And older kids should be able to manage their own schedules without mom functioning as an executive assistant.
- Schoolwork suffers: If children are rushing through schoolwork, forgetting assignments, or not putting in the work to study, it may be time to explain the "extra" in extra-curricular.
- Meltdowns increase: My daughter gleefully bounces from school to activities to play dates but then, after dinner, comes the meltdown. I know she isn't getting the downtime she needs to process when her emotions get the better of her. This can be a little tough to spot because it does not happen directly because of the activities--it is more a reaction to an overall level of stress.
So, what do we do? Here are a few things we're trying:
- Make choices: In an age appropriate way, we're talking with our daughter about the limited resources of time, money, and energy. We have guided her in choosing between similar activities, like dance and gymnastics, and focusing on what she enjoys the most, like piano.
- Have guidelines: As my daughter progresses in school, we will have clear expectations about the amount of time she needs to put into school work and helping as part of the family. Equally important is setting aside room for family fun and free time, as well. If these valuable areas suffer, we will look more closely at cutting back on activities.
- Substitute occasional events and workshops for weekly lessons: Knowing that she can still swim at the beach and at friends' pools during the summer is helping my daughter take a break from swim lessons. Local community centers, libraries, and businesses, offer one-off classes in art, weekend sports clinics, and other fun opportunities...and some are even free!
Not over-scheduling in the first place would have been a lot easier than trying to cut back! Now that we're here, we're taking steps to reclaim sanity in our schedule.