The Danger in Over Scheduling Kids – How Much is Too Much?

Zoo class. Dance class. Scouts. Science hour at the museum. Soccer. Basketball. Karate. Gymnastics. Violin. Art class. There are so many different activities for kids to participate in. It’s easy to be tempted to sign an eager kid up for every opportunity you come across – but is it good to do so? Are we in danger of over-scheduling our kids?

The Feast of Opportunity

I home school, so the temptation to take advantage of every activity offering my kids the opportunity to be around other kids is strong. After all,One of the nice things about homeschooling is freeing the kids up to participate in a variety of activities. But even for those who don’t homeschool, there is a plethora of after school activities available to choose from. But how do you know when enough is enough? Is there too much of a good thing?

It feels like kids today have more options than ever before. Most museums and zoos offer a wide variety of classes. There’s in home and out of home instruction. If you live in a college town, the university offers a variety of opportunities for kids. Schools have before and after school programs as well as a selection of clubs from which to choose. There are community center classes and studio classes. Some places even offer foreign language instruction to children. That doesn’t even include Girl Scouts and Scouts, 4-H, youth groups, and other community opportunities existing for kids.

Time Management

Commitments add up pretty quickly. While it may feel like an hour here, and an hour there, kids still have to get to their activities. Not only does over-scheduling children have a negative effect on kids, but it can have a big negative effect on family life as a whole. Carting kids around from activity to activity means that someone is in the car an awful lot, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. The likelihood of picking up food from a drive through goes up when kids are over-scheduled, and parents’ don’t get much downtime for themselves.

It’s important to factor in the time it takes to get to and from activities into one’s schedule before committing to another activity.

Signs a Child is Over-Scheduled

If a child is losing interest in activities that he or she once enjoyed, it could be the case that he or she is over-scheduled and stressed. Sometimes, it’s harder for kids than it is for adults to speak up about their needs for downtime – especially because our kids want us to be happy. If your child has no interest in previous things he or she enjoyed, it may be time to cut back on some activities.

Burnout isn’t the only sign a child is over-scheduled. If a child doesn’t have time for a social life or sitting and vegetating in front of a television set for an hour or two, it’s going to be more difficult for that child to learn how to just be. It’s actually good for kids to be bored once in a while or sit and watch the paint on the wall. Not only can this lead to creative spurts, but it can also help your child recharge so that he or she is processing what was learned through a day.

Frequent complaints about stomach aches, headaches, or other physical discomfort can be a sign that your child is experiencing the physical side effects of stress.

Another sign a child is overschedules is an increase in the number of mood swings or in the frequency of grumpy moods and tantrums. Kids who don’t get enough time to just sit or have open-ended play are also likely to have a difficult time calming for sleep and getting restful sleep. Some activities could cut into times that would otherwise be used for napping or sleeping at night. Remember, kids still need a lot of sleep.

A final sign a child is over-scheduled is that the child starts to do poorly in school. Learning needs a certain amount of intellectual energy. If a child isn’t having regular downtime and time free from scheduled commitments, then burnout is a real threat, and just like with adults, it can bleed over into every area of life.

How to Prevent Over-Scheduling

It’s okay if your child doesn’t take every opportunity that comes his or her way. In fact, learning how to say “no” to things is an important part of growing up and choosing the path that one will follow. Offering choices – gymnastics or Scouts, youth group or art class, can help your child start to prioritize what he or she wants to focus on in non-academic time.

Let your child choose his or her activities. Sure, for the preschool set, it’s fine to sign a child up for an activity or two to test the waters, but older kids have preferences. Be willing to listen to your child’s feedback. If soccer isn’t working out, it’s okay for your child to not continue it next season – and if over-scheduling isn’t a concern, allow your child to drop it after the commitment to the current season is finished.

Make a master schedule of all  the things your child is committed to already. Be sure to include meal times, self care, sleep, time for homework, and time for schoolwork (if you’re homeschooling) on the schedule. Add in all of the activities your child is already committed to on the schedule. How much free time is left? When will your child have friends over? When will he or she have unstructured time to play?

Learning how to manage a balanced schedule that leaves time for all of life’s activities is an important skill to have – but it’s very important to ensure that the schedule has time for downtime and time for self-care – even for kids.

What will you do to help ensure your child isn’t overbooked?


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