In today’s competitive society, the norm seems to be trying to crowd something into every minute of every day. Often, parents feel they should keep their children constantly busy with sports and extracurricular activities that leaves very little room for free play and learning on their own. The intentions of these well-meaning parents are usually good because they want their child to excel and experience the best of life; however, trying to keep up can be physically and emotionally exhausting for everyone.
Many times the kids – especially the older ones – are setting the pace because they feel pressured to enhance their schedule of activities to get into their college of choice, increase their chances for a sports or academic scholarship, or simply because they want to keep up with all of their friends.
Whatever the reasons, the stress of maintaining such a demanding pace can take its toll on children and manifest itself in different ways.
Signs your child may be overwhelmed:
- Persistent stomach aches or headaches
- Feels anxious or depressed
- Lack of sleep or difficulty sleeping
- Has a decline in school grades
- Excessive worrying about performance in school or sports
- Tantrums over changes in routines or other minor issues
- Constant worries over family, friends, school, activities
- Perfectionism or overly concerned with things being orderly
Suggestions for busy families:
Children experience stress just like adults, but due to their emotional immaturity they are not able to manage it as well. Therefore, it’s important to take a look at the big picture so that you can identify the areas or activities that can be reduced or cut out entirely.
Develop healthy habits – Make sure everyone (including you) is getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating the right food. This means cutting out the sugary drinks and empty-calorie snacks, and noshing on fruits and veggies while drinking lots of water.
Set priorities – Education and academics should always come before sports and extracurricular activities. If school grades are dropping, then it may be time to drop an activity.
Establish boundaries – Limit extracurricular activities to one or two times a week, and don’t allow your child to participate in more than one sport or drama/musical performance at a time.
Keep a calendar – Stay organized with a family calendar that is kept on the refrigerator or other prominent place so that everyone knows what is going on at all times. This will help to minimize overbooking and hopefully create some free time.
Just say no – It’s hard to say “no” to the people we love, but sometimes it’s necessary when it’s in their best interest. If your child is already engaged in several activities and really, really wants to get involved in another one – say “no.” Or, tell them to drop an existing activity (or two) to make room for the new one.
Create family time – Everyone needs downtime and that’s what spending time with family should be – a time to relax, have fun, and just be themselves. Go for bike rides or hiking; play board games; have a movie night; or set aside one night a week for the family to have dinner together.
Managing stress is a common issue that many families experience. By paying attention to your child’s schedule, exercise, diet, and sleep patterns, you can help them from becoming too overwhelmed with school, sports, and activities. If you have any persistent problems or concerns, speaking with a doctor or mental health professional is advised.