Piano lessons. Soccer practice. Swimming lessons. Tutoring sessions. After spending a full day in a child care facility or at school, many children also participate in extracurricular activities in the evenings or during the weekends. As a parent, you want to introduce your child to new experiences and opportunities and foster their interests. Extracurricular activities can be positive and fulfilling for your child. However, your child also needs to be able to enjoy downtime; quality time with family; and time to complete school responsibilities, such as homework or reading. Before you enroll your child in the next activity, you may want to consider if your child’s extracurricular activity schedule is too much or just right?
For many children, participating in extracurricular activities can positively impact their social skills, academic abilities, and physical development. In addition, extracurricular activities can provide safety and supervision for a period of time when children may otherwise be unsupervised. Further, extracurricular activities can offer opportunities for your child to be physically active as opposed to being sedentary and engaging in behaviors such as watching TV, scrolling on social media, or playing video games.
Engaging in too many extracurricular activities or participating in activities that do not interest your child can have a negative impact on your child. In deciding whether your child should continue, cut back, or stop participating in an extracurricular activity, look for signs that your child may feel overscheduled. Signs of overscheduling may include the following symptoms in your child:
- Being tired, anxious, or depressed
- Experienced headaches or stomachaches due to stress, poor eating habits, or lack of sleep
- Falling behind on schoolwork or experiencing a drop in grades
- Showing a loss of interest in activity
Your child may not show signs of overscheduling, or the symptoms may be mild, or they may come and go. The following questions can help you further understand if your child’s extracurricular activities are helping or hindering their growth and development.
Time – How much time do you spend with your child? Does your child spend time with friends or other family members? Do you and your child long to spend more time together or with other family members?
School – Is the time spent on extracurricular activities getting in the way of academics (e.g., falling behind on homework or assignments, declining grades)? Does participation in activities encourage your child to do well in school (e.g., maintaining a minimum grade point average in order to participate)?
Rest – Is your child getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age? Does your child have unstructured time to play, think, or create?
Interests – Does your child seem to enjoy the activity? Do you have to convince or bribe them to go to practices or participate while they are there?
Costs – Do the costs associated with your child’s activities fit comfortably into your family’s budget (e.g., fees, uniforms, equipment, travel)? Are you sacrificing necessities so that your child can participate?
Talk it Through with Your Child
Extracurricular activities can serve as an enriching experience for your child and family. However, unstructured downtime is also important. If you notice your child is exhibiting signs of being overscheduled, have a conversation with them. Talking with them about their participation in extracurricular activities can help you learn which activities they enjoy the most and which ones they may not enjoy or enjoy less than they used to. Your child may also express a desire to spend more free time with friends and family or simply have evenings when they can be at home and relax. This information can help you determine how to adjust your child’s extracurricular activities to align with their interests and needs. Together, you can create a schedule that works best for your child and your family.
American College of Pediatricians. (2016, March 16). Overscheduled! https://archive.acpeds.org/overscheduled
Cleveland Clinic. (16 July, 2018). Is your child overscheduled? Kids need ‘down time.’ Healthessentials. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-your-child-overscheduled-kids-need-down-time/
Mahoney, J. L., Harris, A. L., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Organized activity participation, positive youth development, and the over-scheduling hypothesis. Social Policy Report. Society for Research in Child Development, 20(4), 1-32. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2379-3988.2006.tb00049.x
Schiffrin, H. H., Godfrey, H., Liss, M., & Erchull, M. J. (2015). Intensive parenting: Does it have the desired impact on child outcomes? Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(8), 2322-2331. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-014-0035-0
Wedge, M. (2014, August 16). Overscheduled Kids: How much of a good thing is too much? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/suffer-the-children/201408/overscheduled-kids