Resist the Urge to Overschedule Your Family

Soccer practice, violin lessons, dance recitals, swim meets — today’s kids take part in endless enrichment activities that boost confidence, help them stay active, and are just plain fun. How can your family find the right mix — and not end up dragging from one event to the next, only to find there’s no time, even, to eat dinner?

While many activities are, in fact, enriching and good for our kids, recent studies find that overdoing it can come with consequences for the whole family: stress, exhaustion and irritability. Taking on too much can sometimes detract from meaningful time together as a family, which “trumps any organized activity,” explains Dr. Janet Taylor, a community psychiatrist, in an article for TODAY.

“Participating in extracurricular activities like sports, academics, community, and the arts can be beneficial,” Dr. Taylor continues, but “there is no doubt that many of our families are on a ‘hyper-schedule.’”

How, then, can you recognize the surefire symptoms of overscheduled kids? Here are four signs to stay on the lookout for as your family heads into a new school year.

No time for a family meal
If you find yourself rushing home from work every night with no time to prepare and eat a meal, your family may have too much on its plate (and we don’t mean food!). Being cramped for time one or two nights a week is fine, experts say, but more than that can take a toll on the whole family.

Studies link family meals to a host of benefits, from improved vocabularies and better school performance to healthier diets, stronger connections between kids and parents, and greater confidence and well-being.

You feel like a chauffer
As parents, our role is enormous — we nurture our kids, model appropriate behaviors, provide a roof over their heads and food on the table. Yet in the hustle of running errands and dropping off and picking up our kids, it’s easy to lose sight of these larger roles and start to feel like just a chauffer.

For a week, track how much time you spend transporting your kids to scheduled activities. Can you find a way to cut back?

Homework takes a back seat
No doubt, kids learn and grow from after-school and weekend enrichment activities. But homework is important, too. If you find your family rushing to fit it in, or if your kids are too tired to give it the attention it deserves, then you may need to adjust their schedule.

“School should come first,” says Dr. Mary L. Gavin, a family practitioner and the senior medical editor for Kids Health. Before you sign your kids up for an activity, know exactly how much time is involved (one practice a week vs. two?), and don’t let homework suffer, Dr. Gavin cautions.

Physical or emotional symptoms creep in
Everyone has a bad day or catches a cold now and then, but repeated crankiness or complaints about headaches and bellyaches can be a sign of overdoing it. As Dr. Kate Cronin, a pediatric physician in Delaware, explains in a Huffington Post article, “it’s a warning sign if your child looks or acts tired, complains of headaches and pains, isn’t sleeping well, or ‘just doesn’t feel right.’” Dr. Cronin calls this cascade of complaints “grumpy old man symptoms” — and heeds parents to pay attention when and if they crop up.

What can you do if you see signs like these in kids? Just as grown-ups need an occasional rest-and-relaxation day, kids do, too. Don’t be afraid for your kids to miss an activity or two, and take time to talk to your family about how you can cut back. Every family needs downtime to unwind, relax, connect, and have fun together — these are core ingredients of growing a healthy family.