Overscheduling activities can cause burn-out for children and parents

UAB clinical psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D., discusses the importance of evaluating activities and setting ground rules to keep from getting overbooked.

family argument tsOverbooked families get stressed out and tend to argue more.A new school year means new after-school activities, which can lead to a balancing act of schedules for parents. Between sports, music lessons, youth groups and other activities, it is easy for parents and children to quickly become overcommitted.

“Busy schedules have become a part of our culture,” said Josh Klapow, 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 good 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 kid activities, establishing family time, and recognizing that down time is important.

If you have a busy schedule and your kids are displaying any of these signs, there is a good chance they are being stretched too far:

  • Tired
  • Irritable
  • Nervous
  • Easily distracted
  • Headache and/or 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 a set of 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 for transportation to and from each activity?
  • What activities are your other children involved in?
  • 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 for coaches and peers. Conversations about time commitment are important, specifically expressing how this could cut into their social time with friends.

“Be upfront with your kids,” Klapow said. “If the activities require that the child be 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.”

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.

In addition, parents should carve out time for their own activities  they enjoy, as well as opportunities to stay healthy.

“Driving your health into the ground in order to accommodate your child’s schedule is simply not a smart thing to do,” Klapow said.

Family time is also important. Parents should set aside family time at the very least, one night a week.

Family time is also important. Parents should 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.

Down time offers a chance for parents and children to relax, reflect on the day or just do nothing.

“We live in a very busy world, and we want the best for our kids,” Klapow said. “Sometimes the best means less.” 

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