It’s a question lots of parents struggle with: How much is too much when it comes to extracurricular activities? Of course, there are days when the drive from soccer practice to karate to Hebrew school is enough to make any parent ready to cancel all the after-school appointments, especially when you’re eating dinner in the car yet again. But the structure, enrichment, socialization and skill development your daughter gets from those activities can help encourage healthy growth and make her more well-rounded. So where do you draw the line?
Child psychologist Dr. Janet Taylor recommends looking at your family’s schedule and then reducing commitments and activities by 10 percent.
Overscheduled kids can end up stretched too thin to perform well in school and other pursuits, but living on the go doesn’t just take its toll on children. There can be negative consequences for parents, too. From the Huffington Post:
“We have a generation of mothers and fathers who want to be all things to all people,” said Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, who specializes in adolescent medicine and behavioral issues at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “They are willing to do so much self-sacrificing for their child.”
Sound like you? Then it might be time to reevaluate what you’re booking this season. Now, no one is suggesting you become a selfish parent and refuse to shuttle your kids back and forth to their favorite activities. But, Ginsburg said, “There’s nothing more important for your child than for you to be doing well yourself.”
According to a 2011 New York Times article, having a warm, loving family life is as important to children’s development as all those enriching activities. If parents are stressed out over the time, money and energy that go into the extracurriculars, that takes a toll on that valuable family time.
From the New York Times article:
On a recent National Public Radio program, Steven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, said he and another economist could find no evidence that that sort of parental choices could be correlated at all with academic success.
“And my guess is,” he went on, “that when it comes to the happiness of kids, that kind of cramming has got to be negatively correlated. Being rushed from one event to the other is just not the way most kids want to live their lives, at least not my kid.”
So how do you strike a good balance between keeping your children active and stressing them out? The answer is sitting right across from you at the dinner table (or eating dinner in the backseat, depending on what’s on the schedule this evening). Keep an eye on your daughter’s moods. Read her body language when it’s time for ballet, lacrosse or Girl Scouts. And most importantly, ask her what she wants to do. Not only may her answers surprise you; she may learn something about herself as she decides. According to Dr. Taylor, “The process can help them think about what they like and provide an opportunity to discuss commitments, demands and expectations.”