Piano lessons. Tennis practice. Soccer. Violin. Gymnastics. Parents want to provide as many opportunities for their children as possible, but this can be overwhelming for children who are just learning to balance their academic and extracurricular lives.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. However, when anxiety becomes excessive, it can affect a child’s daily life. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that, if left untreated, children with anxiety disorders are at a greater risk to perform poorly in school. Children who struggle with anxiety often find their symptoms multiplied when they are overscheduled. Overscheduled kids are more prone to irritability, tiredness, and an inability to focus.
While there are many benefits to after school activities, choosing too many things at once can be detrimental to both a healthy child and one who suffers from anxiety. How can we help our students create a healthy balance of enriching activities, while making sure that their mental health is in check?
When scheduling activities for children, focus on quality rather than quantity.
Children naturally want to perform their best. An overscheduled child may be hard on themselves when there is not enough time to master an activity. Consider the cost, time commitment and child’s level of interest in each activity and involve your child in choosing one or two things that they really love to help them find a balance.
Make sure after school commitments are developmentally- appropriate.
Early Childhood. Keep your child’s after school life simple and free. Make sure to create free time for child-directed play. As they adjust to their school schedule, allow them to find 1-2 extracurricular activities per week that help develop their social, physical or creative side. Scheduling playdates with friends after school, taking an art or cooking class or joining a dance class can be enriching ways for children to develop their social skills outside of school.
1st-2nd grade. Children are still developing their motor skills. Choose activities that give your child a chance to play and run. Non-competitive teams expose children to sports without the pressure to win. Make sure children have several days of unscheduled after school time for relaxing.
3rd-4th grade. At this age, children are old enough to remember and follow the rules of a sport and handle loss. Team sports are a great way to teach sportsmanship and socialize with peers. Alternative choices might be an activity that builds on a child’s developing fine motor skills, such as a painting class or learning to play an instrument. Involve your child in choosing 1-2 activities that peak their interest.
5th grade. As school pressures are building and the choices for extracurricular activities are increasing, it is critical to help children achieve a balance in their academic and extracurricular life. Make sure your child has adequate time to complete school assignments without having to stay up late. Children should have at least 1-2 unscheduled nights per week to relax and recharge.
Middle School and Upper School. Encourage your child to spend some of their free time volunteering or socializing with friends. Activities like clubs can promote leadership skills and help your child develop friendships with peers who share similar interests. Make sure after school commitments do not exceed 20 hours per week. Be mindful of signs of anxiety, stress or depression. Help your child cut back on activities if they are showing signs of over scheduling.
Saying no to something gives children the opportunity to do something else.
Parenting is about making tough choices. Knowing when to say no to your child about an activity can be just as important as knowing when to say yes. Helping your child strive for balance will reduce anxiety and teach them important life skills as they move out on their own.
Avoid becoming the over scheduled parent.
Even families with one stay-at-home parent can fall victim to over scheduling. We tend to push ourselves hard and our children feel the effects. Just like children, overscheduled parents can be irritable, tired and unfocused. Helping children manage their own schedules makes more time for parents to find time in their own lives to slow down and enjoy the things that bring them joy. Modeling a healthy work/life/self- balance teaches children to make time for relaxation in their own lives.
When kids have too much to do, they may need time to do nothing. Recognizing the importance of downtime and teaching our children to manage their extracurricular activities at a young age will help them cultivate critical time management skills as they grow into healthy adults.
Julie Pace A 2001 graduate of Episcopal High School, Julie returned to her alma mater in 2012. She received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in Elementary Education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. After teaching 2nd grade in a Dual Language program in Texas public schools for three years, Julie moved abroad to teach 1st grade at a bilingual school in Gracias, Lempira Honduras. After her adventure was over, Julie accepted a position to teach Pre-K4 at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, teaching alongside some of her former teachers. She has enjoyed seeing what life is like on the other side of the desk