Tip: How Busy is Too Busy?

September Therapy Tip – How Busy is Too Busy?

By Ali Houshmand, MA, LPC, LMFT, Wonders & Worries Child Life Staff

This time of year we celebrate the start of the school year and the return to ‘normal’ schedules. But parents can also feel overwhelmed by the requirements of children’s school work, sports, hobbies and shuttling between extracurricular activities. And families facing a parental illness can feel particularly overwhelmed by the sudden increase in time pressures.

There is nothing wrong with school-aged children participating in multiple activities. Children do well with and enjoy a healthy level of structure in their daily lives. Routines give them a sense of control and consistency that they need to succeed.

So how do parents figure out if a child is too scheduled, too busy, or stretched too thin? There’s not a black and white approach, but the important part for parents to determine is whether the activities are enriching the child’s life.

Here are five ideas to help parents:

1. Tune In To Your Children’s Feedback

Being aware of our children’s behaviors, thoughts and feelings is a great way to assess how the activities are affecting them. Are the children excited to be taken to their activities? Are they dragging their feet? Do you see them smiling, having fun while participating? When they’re done, are they appropriately tired or overly cranky?

2. Ask: Is The Activity Enriching?

Parents need to determine if activities are helping their children’s development and growth, or if they are an attempt to fill time. Enriching does not mean just academic or activities that look good on a future resume. Enriching activities include sports, music, science, socializing, art, dance, involvement in places of worship, etc. Does the activity feed your child’s strengths, or help them develop more as a person? Distinguish what you as a parent may want for your child versus what the child is developmentally capable of doing and enjoying.

3. Look For Signs That It’s Not Working

Listen, observe, and talk to your children. How much time are they spending on homework and sleep? What are they eating? Do they complain about having too many tasks to accomplish during the week? Also reflect on how YOU as the parent are doing, to ensure you’re not stretched too thin to manage it all. If the activities are negatively affecting your sleep, quality time or rest, then it’s time to reassess. Ask your child what activity they would cut down, rather than choosing one for them.

4. Allow Down Time

What happened to the idea of down time? We as adults are not the only ones living in a fast paced world; our children face the same dynamic. We cringe when we hear our children say, “I’m bored.” Our response is to find them something to do, or find an extracurricular activity to make sure we don’t hear those dreaded words again! But maybe it is acceptable to be bored sometimes. Maybe doing nothing is actually doing something. Empower your children and teens to accept down time, and let them be in charge of doing what they want. Not relying on an adult every minute to keep them occupied is good for independence, self-esteem and sense of control.

5. Focus On Your Child’s Interests, Not Yours

Repeat this motto: “My children’s failures are not my failures, and my children’s successes are not my successes.”

As parents we might need to ask ourselves why we are signing up our children for specific activities. Did the children show interest in them? Did they come to us and ask us directly to join an activity? Are we putting too much emphasis on their performance in their activities? We need to pause and consider our expectations for our children and what our children are communicating about their own needs.

Parents have a lot on their plates these days. There are stressors in our lives that we have little to no control over, and we have to learn to cope with these events as they come.

On the other hand, parents do have the opportunity to manage how much more stress they add or alleviate. One area parents can focus on is the activities their children are involved in, and weigh the benefits and the challenges of each.

We are here to support our children, listen to them, guide them, and above all, enjoy quality time with them. That might even mean doing nothing when with them!

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