These days, both parents and kids can feel pressure to participate in a variety of activities. The goal of having a well-rounded college application that includes sports, academics, volunteering, and work often takes priority over free time and rest.
But while participating in multiple activities can enrich your child’s life, this also can make your child feel stressed and pressured in an unhealthy way. It is possible for a child to be too busy. As a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure your child achieves a balance that is optimal for both their resume and their mental health. Help your child manage their schoolwork and activities while still having much-needed downtime by following these steps.
Let your child choose
Most children have a sense of what activities are right for them.
“It’s important for parents to let kids have some say in what they are doing,” says Alice Ann Holland, Ph.D., ABPP, a board certified clinical neuropsychologist and the Research Director of the Neuropsychology Service at Children’s Health℠. “Don’t force your child to stay involved in activities that they’ve given a fair shot, but clearly don’t enjoy. Even if your child used to enjoy a particular activity, if they’ve lost interest or have started to feel more frustration than joy, don’t force them to stick with it. Talk with your child about what is important to them.”
Dr. Holland says you can ask your child what activities they want to participate in each year so they can choose the activities that they find fun. If your child enjoys their activities, they will help your child relax and reduce stress, which is the original and ultimate goal of extracurricular activities.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations
Parents sometimes can get overexcited if their child shows some talent in an activity. Parents may start to believe that this talent is going to be the key to paying for college or having a successful career. Dr. Holland advises parents to keep in mind that most children do not receive talent-based scholarships and even fewer will become professional athletes or musicians.
“It’s important not to burden children with expectations,” says Dr. Holland. “If they are playing sports or an instrument and are good at it — great. But don’t set that expectation that they have to work to achieve incredible things. The added pressure and burden can take away the relaxation and stress reduction.”
Build free time into your child’s schedule
Everyone, including children, needs time to relax and recharge. When looking at your child’s schedule, be sure they have time to have fun and be themselves every day.
For children, free time is about more than relaxing. It’s also a time where they pick up new information about the world.
“Lots of learning happens during free time,” says Dr. Holland. “If it’s free time and they play with friends, they are learning how to navigate social situations, how to be leaders, how to be cooperative followers, how to share, and how to navigate conflicts.”
Dr. Holland says it’s not just free time spent with others that gives children an opportunity to learn; they learn a lot playing and exploring on their own, too.
“Children need time to be creative, to explore nature, to learn more about the world around them,” says Dr. Holland. “It’s easy to look at a kid digging a hole in the backyard and say there’s no learning going on there, but there is—everything from cause-and-effect learning to literally unearthing new knowledge about the world.”
By helping your child balance schoolwork and activities with daily free time, you give their minds the opportunity to grow and learn in a healthy way.
If you are concerned your child isn’t achieving balance between school, activities and play, talk to your Children’s Health pediatrician.
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