The Pitfalls of Over-Scheduling Your Child

by : Pat Brill



Copyright (c) 2007 Pat BrillIt's no secret that American children have jam-packed schedules and expectations that most adults never had to deal with. But you might be surprised to learn that many children carry around a PDA to store schedules and contact information, and a cell phone to stay connected to parents who may be at work or attending a sibling's scheduled event.

Or maybe you're not surprised at all. Maybe like so many moms and dads, you practically live out of your mini-van, carting your kids from one activity to the next. Maybe you too are beginning to wonder if the violin lessons and soccer games are really worth missing out on family dinner.

For some parents, the decision to schedule a seemingly nonstop array of activities and lessons is based on the desire to give their children an "edge" over other children with respect to college admission and other life goals. Other parents are mindful of the temptations so often indulged in after school, and would rather keep their kids busy than have them get involved in drugs, alcohol, or sex. Whereas some parents simply have a hard time saying no to their children's requests to partake in extracurricular activities.

However you feel about the benefits of participating in a plethora of activities, over scheduling may be taking a toll on your child. With little or no room to relax and play, kids are stressed out. Over-scheduled kids often develop anxiety disorders and are more prone to illness.

Surprisingly, all of the extra homework and tutoring can cause over-scheduled students' grades to suffer. Not as measurable is the effect all of this running about has on a child's imagination. With no time to relax or be spontaneous, creative thinking has little chance of developing.

Not often discussed in the context of over-scheduling is the effect it has on the parents. Working full-time – either in or outside of the home – is stressful enough. When you add in numerous activities for each child, there is no time left for personal rejuvenation, or even sleep. When mom or dad is stressed out, it trickles down to the kids very fast. Not to mention the challenges over-scheduling poses to a relationship with a partner.

In an effort to fit everything in, families rarely experience time all together, and if they do, it is often in the car. The family dinner seems to be a thing of the past, yet it is this golden time when everyone comes together to share thoughts about the day. When a family is physically disconnected, it is easy to become emotionally disconnected. Without a strong bond with their parents, children are more likely to get involved in drugs, drinking, and promiscuous sex.

Perhaps most detrimental is the message parents are sending when they place supreme importance on achievement. Children learn by example more than anything else, and when the family culture is one of over-achievement, it can set your child up for a lifetime of stress.

In this type of environment, children may feel a low sense of self-worth, as if they can never truly measure up to your expectations. Also, the meaning of the lesson, the true benefit of the experience is lost. Instead, the honors classes, Varsity football, and volunteer activities are heralded for their ability to help your kids get into a great college."

The greatest gift we can give our children is the deep, inner conviction that they don't have to perform for us to love and cherish them," says Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, author of Hyper-Parenting the Over-Scheduled Child and founder of National Family Night. (Talk to New York City's Brick Church, January 2003)If you are worried your child is over-scheduled, you need not cut out everything right away. Begin by setting aside one night a week for family time. Sit down together as a family and vote on what you would like to do together.

Once you have a few family nights under your belt, take time to really examine your family's schedule. Let each child choose one activity they would like to do most, and let the others go for now. Whenever possible, involve the entire family in a child's activity. Why not get everyone to go to Saturday's game, or the Friday night recital?The good news is, your efforts to simplify your family's schedule and remove stressful expectations from your child's life will be felt almost immediately. It won't be long before you will treasure your "do nothing" time more than any certificate of achievement. You will soon find that the easy laughter with your partner, your child seeking you out for advice, and your own ability to breathe is worth letting go of just about any activity.