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The Overscheduled Child:
Moving From Frantic to Focused

By Jan Doyle

From hand written lists to digital organizers, life at work is planned, productive, and profitable. But going home to tired, cranky, and stressed kids can easily transform a home from a feeling of refuge to a household of hassles. Overscheduled children impact the routines at home. How do families create a home environment that supports harmony and balance?

Patty is a talented softball player. Her middle school coach has repeatedly praised her pitching abilities increasing confidence in her skills.   Mom decided to provide Patty with individual coaching practice twice a week to further extend her daughter’s natural abilities. The only time the coach had available to help her child occurred on the same days Patty had swim practice.   Mom left work early to transport her child from school to coaching practice and back to school just in time for swim practice. The family sat down for dinner at 7:30. Homework began at 8:00 pm.

 Is there a problem here? Yes!   Every parent wants what is best for their child. If that means private coaching, tutoring or the newest whachyamacallit to excel in class, many parents consider the expenditure justified. It is important to nurture and support the interests of your child, but not to the detriment of common sense. Every proclivity does not have to be sustained and maintained.

Crowding a child’s week with sports, music or art lessons while simultaneously going to school could easily leave many children exhausted and anxious. Look for warning signs. If each indicator is taken one by one, they are easy to confuse with normal adolescent behavior. Add them up and parents have a huge red flag.

The Big Picture

Step One:  With your child, review the commitments and obligations month by the month. It can be as simple as listing items on a sheet of paper divided into 31 blocks, or on a calendar from the dollar store, or a fancy planner. Write down every obligation for each day, including school for each child.

Step Two:  Return to your first entry. Using the sample below, fill in the times and activities.

Time

Activity

Number of Hours

9:00 to 3:00

School

6 hours

3:00 to 5:00

After School Program

2 hours

5:00 to 5:30

Fast Food for Dinner

hour

5:30 to 6:30

Swim Practice

1 hour

7:00 to 8:00

Homework

1 hour

8:00 to 9:00

“Free Time”

1 hour

9:00

Bed time

8 hours

Step Three:  Add the usual activities such as family chores, computer time and TV watching that is part of every child’s life. When you look at the obligations versus free time and personal choice, a schedule like the one in figure 1 could be bordering on overload for your child. One day a week isn’t cause for concern, but four times a week, this schedule takes its toll.

Additional Questions

  • Does your child have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? According to WebMd, children from 7-11 years old need ten to eleven hours of sleep a day. This drops to eight or nine hours a day when a child is between twelve and eighteen year old.

  • Is your child easily irritated, and cries over very minor things?

  • Does your child have little or no time for friends outside of planned activities?

  • Is there a drop in grades because your child doesn’t have time to study?

 If you answer yes to any or all of the above questions, they might be indicators that your child is overscheduled.

What Parents Can Do!

First, determine priorities. Sit down with your child and talk. Often, schedules get out of whack because activities are added without considering what your child is already doing. Take a hard look and the schedule and see where it can be pruned.

Second, teach your child to say no to activities that don’t really matter to him.

Third, teach your child to say yes to an activity after it has been considered in the “big picture” of things to do. Is it worth the investment in time?   Will it interfere with schoolwork and jeopardize college? Is it worth giving up free time with friends? TV? Hanging Out? Education is priority number one. Additionally, it is important to consider the loss of family time. Will an additional activity interfere with the family’s dinner time, church, or other activities important to the family?

Your child may want to do everything. And a child can, just not at the same time. Teach your child how to prioritize activities in his life, now. It is a lesson that will help him for his entire life.

Read other articles and learn more about Jan Doyle.

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