Overscheduling kids can cause a lot of stress, anxiety, and pressure.


Dear Adele,

Our nine-year-old is an excellent athlete. This September, he wants to play hockey, be in a swim club and take karate. We also have a six-year-old who wants to take music lessons, learn to skate and be involved in cubs. Somewhere, we would like to find some “Me” and “Couple” time, as well. We are working parents and wonder how we can keep it all together. Help!



Dear Exhausted,

Every September, modern Canadian parents are faced with the challenge of scheduling their children’s extracurricular activities. Given that many children were denied the opportunity to participate in such things due to the pandemic, it is especially tempting to let them sign up for as many things as they want.

Parents are well-intentioned when they enroll their kids in several activities at once. They may hope to help their children develop their individuality and skills in many areas. They may also want to ensure that their youngsters have opportunities they themselves never had as kids. Sometimes they want their progeny to have a chance to socialize and make new friends. Other times, they overschedule their children so that their offspring can find their life path, earn scholarships when they are ready for college, or simply keep busy enough to stay out of trouble.

But there are drawbacks to overscheduling your children says Dr. Magdalena Battles in ‘The Danger of Overscheduling your Kids.’ Children may burn out because they are exhausted by the workload and their parent’s expectations. Play time, relaxation periods, and creative time is cut back. This is a negative because free play helps to develop creativity, social skills, cognitive abilities, physical proficiencies, communication skills, and emotional health. Overscheduling can also cause a lot of stress, anxiety, and pressure. Finally, healthy eating and family meals often fall off when children are involved in too many outside activities.

So here is a checklist you can use to see if your child is overscheduled. It is predominantly from Cleveland Clinic Health Essential’s ‘Is Your Child Overscheduled: Kids Need Downtime.’

  • When you cannot remember the last time the family had fun together
  • When the parents fail to model a good work-life balance
  • When the child doesn’t want to go to the activity
  • When there are few family meals
  • When the child rarely has friends over to play
  • When there is little time for school assignments
  • When the youngster has hardly any free time for relaxation and downtime
  • When there is no regular free play time after school
  • When the family does not have at least five 20-minute sessions per week, as a family, doing something fun, such as games, stories, or walks
  • When the child becomes moody and irritable
  • When the little one looks and acts tired
  • When the child has disturbed sleep
  • When the youngster complains of minor ailments
  • When the student’s grades start to drop
  • When the child loses interest in activities
  • When family bonding times are reduced

If some of the items on this checklist are hitting a nerve with you Exhausted, it is time to learn to say no to overscheduling your kids. A few ideas follow to help your family get off your treadmill, out of the chaos, and into a simpler, saner, more enjoyable lifestyle.

First, list your priorities for non-school time and discuss them with the children at a family meeting. Be attuned to your kids’ feelings about stress and choices. Use a calendar and schedule downtime for yourself and your family choices right away. Be sure to schedule personal time and couple time for you and your partner.

Next, decide the rules for how many hours can be spent in extracurricular activities and stick to them. Drop any activities that are primarily your desires rather than your children’s. Limit each child to a specific number of activities so you can chauffeur your children to and from them without overstretching your own schedule. Ensure their selections are things they truly enjoy and really want to pursue. Slow everyone down and try to create a less complicated life

You do not need to live with the bedlam created by multiple activities with multiple children. Not only is it monetarily expensive, but it comes at a significant cost for the quality of your family life. I think you and your children will be happier with your home life if you can put some of the above-stated ideas into play. Do not feel guilty that you cannot do it all. Your children will fare better with an undemanding and less rushed life, where family time, relaxation, and downtime for everyone are guarded and highly valued.

You might find the following two books of interest: ‘The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper Parenting Trap’ by Alvin Rosenfeld and ‘Overscheduled Andrew’ by Ashley Spires.

I will conclude with a few inspiring quotations on this topic:

Research has shown that children who spend more time participating in activities report higher levels of anxiety.” — Sabrina Rogers Anderson

Research from the Journal of Early Childhood Development and Care showed that kids need to play to deal with anxiety, stress and worry!” —  Dr. Magdalena Battles

Overscheduled children lose the space to simply be with themselves and learn the art of being alone. In our noisy, busy world, the importance of developing the life skill of solitude, meditation and quietly being with oneself, cannot be overstated.” —  Joshua Becker

Sincerely, Adele

Email your questions to maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

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