After school activities promote social skills, education, or physical fitness. They are usually great for kids. A sense of personal accomplishment can be achieved when a child masters a skill such as making it to the next belt level in karate. It is far better than having your kids go home and sit in front of a TV or playing video games. But how much is too much?
Every day in my karate schools I see it; the rush and hustle of parents and their kids trying to get from one actitity to another as they have booked martial arts and soccer practice (or some other sport) on the same day. I see the short tempers, frayed nerves, and sometimes lack of focus among the kids. Are your kids trying to do too much? How do you know? What can you do to prevent it?
At the extreme I have read stories about children starting sport as soon as they were old enough. They practised and played hard all the way through high school, where sport became very serious. For some, by high school they had already burned out their arms or knees as well as any chance of going professional or even getting a scholarship. Or they may be mentally burned out and have no desire to ever play the game again.
How do you know if your child is trying to do too many after school activities?
Their grades begin to suffer. You notice they have very little time for homework. Their teacher comments that they seem tired in class and are unable to get their work done. This is especially true for older kids, as the homework levels increase as kids enter high school.
Your child is not enjoying the activity anymore. It is becoming too much like a “job” or “chore”. They just seem uninterested and have no desire to practice. They do not look forward to their classes.
They are always tired. When they get home from the after-school activity, they just plop down on the couch and sleep. They are too tired for homework or even video games. They may become short-tempered from lack of rest.
After school activities become the kids playtime and their only friends are their team mates. They have no time for a social life. This is a sign that they are lacking free time.
The child seems very stressed out. Some children become ill. Others may become withdrawn and nervous while others show anger and demand attention. Adults are not the only ones who become stressed. Watch for the signs.
You find yourself very stressed out at the end of each week trying to play assistant coach, chauffeur, and chief motivator, especially if you have multiple children in different activities.
However, each child’s personality and situation differ. There are some children that need to stay active. One of my student’s mothers told me “My son is very highly strung and needs to be doing something most of the time to stay out of trouble”. We all know a few kids that need something to do rather than just watch TV or hang out at malls. But be careful you are not signing your kids up for activities just to keep them entertained.
If they are taking on too much, what can you do about it?
Make sure they have a couple of free days each week. Some of the parents that come to our karate classes have told me they limit the number of activities their children do in any given school term. One or two after-school activities is a good rule of thumb. They set this limit and they stick to it. This will give their children more time to relax and catch up on any homework. It seems like a reasonable approach.
Others have set aside one evening a week where no one can plan anything — that is their family night where they play games together or watch a movie. Others make sure that their family eats together at least four or five nights a week. This is a great time for kids and parents to bond.
Let your children pick their own after school activity. They will be more likely to enjoy it and stick with it. Making your child participate in an activity they don’t want to do, or don’t have the talent for is not right. Watch, listen and talk to your kids and they’ll tell you what they want and what they like. You’ll know if your child is athletic or more interested in arts or music. Don’t be afraid to let your children experience things and learn what they like.
It’s okay to tell your children that once they sign up for the activity, they are committed to participate to the end of the class or season. This teaches kids to follow through and encourages both parents and kids to be especially selective when choosing an activity.
Help them set their priorities. Your children need your help to understand how to prioritize their activities. Explain that if they spend a certain amount of time on one activity it means less time for doing things that they also think are important. Some kids may feel that you are punishing them by limiting their after-school activities. You will need to explain the benefits of having less stress and more free time. Kids should be enjoying life rather than being in a constant state of activity.
Balance is the key
Structured activities are important, but if kids are over-scheduled they lose out on the unstructured free play that they need to develop problem solving and learn social interaction. Kids need a chance to breathe, be themselves, daydream, and play. They need to learn to entertain themselves and enjoy their own company. Parents need to strike a balance that includes both. Remember the big picture–they’ll be grown-ups soon enough.
What are your experiences with after school activities for kids? Do you feel your children do too much?