The After-School Activities Juggling Act: How to Keep It All in Balance

Has it already begun: the after-school high wire act of driving them to dance and music lessons and sports practice while trying to make sure there’s time for homework, a meal that doesn’t get eaten in the car, a bath and bedtime? Not to mention some needed downtime for the whole family?

This is a typical scenario for many local parents, who in the quest to give our children as many new experiences as possible, are riding a wave of participation that has to crash sometime. And with it, quite possibly, so will your child.

“Parents enroll their children in several activities for a lot of well-intentioned reasons,” says West Islip psychologist Wendi Fischer. “You feel you have to have every minute of your child’s life scheduled or you’re not doing right by them. Then there’s a sense of keeping up with their peers – both their own and their child’s.”

This zealous involvement has become a cultural phenomenon, says John Siefring, a psychologist in Northport. “It’s not just parents creating the need, but pressure from the top down, with honor societies to get into and Ivy League schools to compete for. It’s not surprising that parents feel they’re doing their children a disservice by not having them involved in many things.”

Some children can handle busy schedules. But for others, juggling too many activities transforms them from pure fun to total torture. You can tell your child is participating in too many things by asking these questions:
* Does she really enjoy every activity?
* Is she reminding you it’s time to go or are you nagging her to get ready?
* Is your child in this activity because he wants to be – or you want him to be?
* Does she have time just to play?
* Is there time to get homework done?
* What is everyone else in your family sacrificing so your child can participate in her activity?
* Is your child whining, saying, “I never get to do what I want?”
* Does she appear to be tired and cranky?
* Does he have trouble sleeping or complain of headaches or stomachaches?

Siefring says another sign your child may be doing too much is your own stress level. “If you’re saying things like, ‘I don’t even have five minutes to myself,’ you need to listen to that,” he says. And, common sense dictates if your calendar looks busy, it is.

What you can handle as a family is a personal decision. But if you find that your child’s feeling the effects of over-involvement, it’s time to take stock. Use the calendar and plot the days for the entire week with your children, marking in homework. Let them see on the calendar how busy life is. Then help them prioritize and problem-solve. If your child is upset about cutting back, point out that if they don’t do a particular activity this time, it doesn’t mean they can’t do it next year. The trick is to find that balance so everyone stays sane.

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