Here we are at the beginning of another school year. Homework, practices and new adventures galore! But how much is too much and what is not enough? Let’s first explore why we feel we have to enroll our children in any extracurricular activities at all. Thinking back to my oldest child’s early years, I started to enroll him in things just because I felt I had to. Mommy and me classes, toddler soccer, tumbling, etc. As a toddler, I am not sure he cared much. But for some reason it made me feel like I was doing my job as a parent. It was what other parents were doing. Plus, I wanted my child to have the best opportunities and not miss out on anything. Then as he grew older, he expressed interest in specific sports and asked to participate. Three kids later it has all become a blur. Now I am just happy they all participate in something besides than video games and other electronics. However, handling three different children’s schedules including our own is no easy feat. Sometimes you have to stop and observe. Look for red flags or warning signs that maybe you are doing too much.
Some warning signs to watch for in your child include physical exhaustion, difficulty sleeping, restlessness, changes in mood or personality, uninterested attitude, anxiety and decreased school performance (e.g., unfinished homework, dropping grades). There are also warning signs in family dynamics, such as when you feel you are not as connected to your children or not able to spend time with them or participate in family activities that are important to you. If you start noticing any of these, it may be time to re-evaluate your commitments.
When my husband and I have noticed warning signs in our children, we start by making a list of all we do. We discuss every commitment with the child affected and explore how those are impacting their life. Then we re-evaluate our values and goals and try to prioritize accordingly. We allow our children a safe environment where they can say they don’t want to do something anymore and try to make sure we are not forcing our wants/goals on them. Then we set reasonable limits to the number of activities/amount of time they are allowed to spend on extracurriculars. Once we set on a new schedule, we commit to it and try our best not to pile on more without thoughtful discussion. We also try not to fall into comparing ourselves with other families. We’ve learned and accepted that all family dynamics are different.
Evaluate Your Goals
At the end of the day, do children need extracurricular activities to survive and function in society? The answer is no, but us well-meaning, loving parents want to give them opportunities to explore their talents and become well-rounded citizens. My best advice is to take time to evaluate your goals and family values and discuss this with your partner and children to make decisions that align with your family’s core beliefs without compromising the things you care most about.