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PTO Today

Finding balance in your child's life

Do you shuttle your child from one activity to the next? Find ways to simplify your child's overscheduled life.

By Emily Graham, PTO Today

It starts with the best of intentions. Your daughter excels at music, so you enroll her in piano lessons. The next year, she picks up the violin and joins the soccer team. She asks to join her friends in scouts, then wins a spot on the academic quiz team.

Family dinners become a thing of the past as you shuttle her from one activity to the next. Homework takes up the rest of the evening, leaving her little time to play or unwind.

Mornings are frantic as she rushes to find homework, athletic gear, and sheet music before the school bus arrives.

You tell yourself it's worth it to help her get into a good college. But no matter how much energy she has now, an overscheduled kid runs the risk of burnout by the time she's ready for college.

"Sometimes we equate the number of activities with good parenting," says Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, a University of New Hampshire psychologist who has authored books on parenting and home organization. "Colleges are looking for kids that are well-rounded, not manically overscheduled."

The hectic pace is hard on parents, too. The pressure parents feel to maximize every opportunity for their children may leave moms and dads feeling inadequate and cause them to derive less satisfaction from parenting, the American Academy of Pediatrics has found.

By contrast, numerous studies have shown that families who eat dinner together report stronger relationships and better grades. According to a 2006 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, kids and teens who eat dinner with their families at least five times a week have a much lower risk of substance abuse.

Weighing the options

If your family is overscheduled, you can ease some of the pressure by finding ways to simplify your daily routine, whether it's cutting back on extracurricular activities or getting more organized at home.

First, think about your attitude toward your child's involvement in activities. Do you feel pressured by your peers to meet a certain level of participation? Do you push your children because you don't want them to miss out on opportunities you didn't have, even if they aren't interested? The AAP urges parents to evaluate which activities are appropriate based on a child's needs, skills, and temperament and to preserve time for children to play and hang out with family members.

Parents should listen carefully to what their children want to do and let them follow their passions rather than of imposing other expectations, says Mimi Doe, author of Busy but Balanced: Practical and Inspirational Ways To Create a Calmer, Closer Family. "For some kids, this pressure to get involved is coming from their parents rather than their desire to try things out," she says. "They just said they like the piano, and you're picturing them at Carnegie Hall."

Instead of thinking about getting an advantage for your children in the college admissions process, she advises parents to focus on creating a manageable family schedule. When considering each activity, think about the time, cost, and transportation involved as well as how it will affect you and your kids. Consider setting limits on the number of activities each child can participate in before the school year starts. Many families limit each child to three activities-one artistic, one athletic, and one social.

Doe encourages families to create more balanced lives based on their own values. If parents feel it's important to eat dinner together a few nights a week, arrange the schedule to try to make it happen. It's important for parents to set predictable times that they're available to listen to their children, she adds, whether it's taking a walk together after dinner or talking for a few minutes before the kids go to bed.

"It's really critical that before the school year begins, families consciously craft the best schedule for them," Doe says. "You want to be proactive, not reactive to what comes home in the backpack."

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Comments from readers

"I loved this article. When my now 6-yr old twins were infants and I first began reading child development books, finding information on slowing down was almost impossible and people looked as if you were a freak for not having your toddler in swim, music, dance,.. I'm glad there is a growing awareness that childhood cannot be repeated. There's time for everything except to do it again."
"I enjoyed this article very MUCH... thank you. I actually learned a little bit about me, as the parent too. I agree, when we try to focus so hard on the children we do start to loose that joy of parenting. I love being a parent and wouldn't trade it for anything, but I do get tired and feel less joy if they aren't happy in doing the extra's too. The focus is the children. They benefit from the extra activities, only if they want to do it, not if they are forced... Thank you for the insight."
"Great article! But what about the work load that comes with homework. Today, it seems that our children have to learn so much in so little time.A homework packet for my 2nd grader consists of math and reading for almost everyday of the week until Monday - when its turned in. Reading & Math together every night! By the time homework is complete, its time for dinner, bath and bedtime. So where is there more room for any activities. Homework is so much more different from when I was growing up.I cant remember having to do so much! I am not an avid fan of No Child Left Behind."
"Great article for first time moms with first time Kindergarteners, going to 'real' school now."
"For better or worse, we have no available time to get overscheduled as my 11-year old brings home 3 hours of homework each evening. She has no time to just be a kid. Her entire schedule is work, work, work."