I’m going to be up front here, even though what I’m about to say may dishearten some of you: I hate kids’ activities. I’ll explain. I hate the stress of being online at 6:58 a.m. and refreshing the page until 7 a.m. to score $206 per kid swimming lessons on Sunday mornings. (I also hate how expensive activities are.) I hate the politics. I hate how parents berate their kids when they don’t hit the ball; I hate how parents stare at their phones instead of watching their kids at bat. I’m not a fan of extracurriculars outside of school-run activities, but I think they’re important for all the reasons you probably do. But how do parents know if their brood are committed to too many after-school and weekend undertakings?
Before I reached out to an expert, I asked one of my besties, who’s starting to feel the weight of the activities her kiddo is registered in. Five-year-old Stella is signed up for swimming lessons, T-ball and Sparks, and she’s begging to start tap. She’s not yet sure if Stella feels overwhelmed, but she sure does—schlepping to activities on weekends and the after-daycare dash is exhausting. She’s planning on keeping an eye on how Stella’s doing once she’s back into the school-plus-activities routine.
That’s the part of this conversation that’s key—you may think four or five extracurriculars are fine for your kids (they did beg you to sign them up for soccer, guitar lessons, coding and skating, right?) but there are some telltale signs you need to look for to make sure they’re not feeling snowed under. “Although extracurriculars are good for kids, too many can cause a lot of stress. See if your child is sleep deprived or tired, loses interest in the activity or doesn’t want to go, begins falling behind in school or with important friends or family,” says Dr. Shimi Kang, a Vancouver-based psychiatrist who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry, and a mother of three. “It’s not OK for kids not to see their siblings and grandparents because they’re ‘too busy.’ These social relationships sustain our health and happiness. If your child doesn’t have enough downtime or unstructured play time, that’s a problem.”
Your best bet, says Dr. Kang, is to look at the 24 hours in each day. “Block out 10 hours for sleep, time for school, time for family meals and an hour or two for downtime, unstructured play and maybe homework, then see what’s left for extracurriculars,” she says.
If you find your crew is signed up for too much, and you’re noticing the signs Dr. Kang mentions, here’s how to choose what to stick with: Activities that promote eye contact, social collaboration, communication, leadership skills, physical activity, innovative thinking and mindfulness, she says, are keepers…unless all their activities fall into these categories and their plates are too full. Then re-evaluate their schedule and sign up for (insert activity here) next season.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Fall 2018