Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

A Good Busy or Overscheduled?

What a surprise: Some new studies about scheduling kids for lots of extracurriculars conflicts with conventional wisdom. CW -- which includes the American Academy of Pediatrics and social sciences professor William Doherty, of the University of Minnesota -- says that overscheduling can lead to anxiety, depression and lack of sleep in children.

Some new studies show just the opposite, writes The Post's Donna St. George. "Organized activities are linked to positive outcomes in school, emotional development, family life and behavior. The children most at risk have no activities at all, the studies showed."

Parents, on the other hand, might not fare so well. One study's lead author, Sandra L. Hofferth, of the University of Maryland at College Park, told St. George: "One thing I do think is that parents are having trouble with it, and they're the ones who are having a hard time trying to figure out how to manage children's lives as well as their own."

It can all be a daunting exercise. Color-coded calendars keeping track of which child needs to be where and when. Carpool organizing. Fitting homework in between tennis and piano, religious school and swim lessons, soccer and dance. Getting all the kids fed. And then, of course, finding "me" time. Once you get a routine set, the season -- and activities -- change, setting a whirlwind of refiguring in motion.

Sure many of the kids are having a blast. They're spending time with friends doing things they like. So long as we're not pushing kids too hard to excel -- causing them to think our affection is tied to their performance -- it's great to know that there's at least a shred of evidence that we aren't causing harm with lots of activity.

However, if all that afternoon and weekend activity is stressing us out, we're not doing ourselves any favors. After all, stress can have widespread negative effects on our bodies.

For now, I think I'll keep limiting the activities and stick to a request our first-grader made while I was scheduling the fall extracurriculars: "No activities on Saturday, mom. I want a day to do whatever."

How hard are your kids' activities on you? Do they prevent you from relaxing, exercising or de-stressing in your own way?

Note to Readers: To comment in On Parenting, you must now be a registered user of washingtonpost.com. This should cut down on the abusive comments and spam. As always, we welcome your thoughts, debate and banter.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  September 29, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Health , Teens , Tweens
Previous: Turning Boys on to Reading | Next: Webkinz User Learns Real-World Lesson

Comments


My experience is similar to the findings. My kids love doing lots of different things and don't feel stressed by the activities. I, however, simply cannot juggle so many activities, and still hold down a job. My husband and I don't get home until 5:30 and then have to feed everyone, and make sure homework is done, before running off to a practice, scout meeting, swim class, etc. That's tough, and half the weekend can be eaten up by things as well. So for now, we try to limit each to one activity (currently ballet and scouting). That seems to be working for us, although we still have occasional challenges (like travel and working late causing big problems). Such is life.

Posted by: jljardon2 | September 29, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I agree it's tough finding the right balance. It also depends on the personalities of your kids. It's like everything else, you need to figure out what works best for your family. Our kids our in first grade and kindergarten and we have two activities a week - karate on mondays and gymnastics on thursdays and that's plenty for them. As they get older and develop more/different interests, we'll adjust accordingly.

And thank you for requiring registration. Hopefully it will cut down on a lot of the crap and make this blog worthwhile again.

Posted by: dennis5 | September 29, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

A family I know has instituted the following rule--one sport per family per season. I am sure that my kids would want to be involved in more activities than they are. They are in girl scouts and one takes piano lessons. That one also takes violin and recorder at school. So they both have homework, one has to practice two instruments daily, and we go to one outside lesson a week. Girl scouts is at school after school, so is easy to manage and fun for them. The rest of the time is spent in play--doing arts and crafts, playing games, riding bikes/scooters/etc., both enjoy messing around on the piano and violin, reading, playing with their stuffed animals, antagonizing each other, and so on.

Posted by: janedoe5 | September 29, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

yes, thank you for requiring registration.

i have to agree that it depends on your child. it also depends on the activity. some activities are more stimulating or stressful than others.

it is also interesting to note that the studies have shown that children with no activities are the ones at the biggest risk. i remember arguing with another blogger about keeping kids busy as a way to keep them out of trouble.

Posted by: quark2 | September 29, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

It is a balancing act and I see parents suffering more than the kids typically!
I try to stick to one to two activities per kid but I have one involved in a play this fall -- it's at the school after school so only pick-up is involved -- but it means delaying dinner on multiple evenings. And it'll likely mean some tough decisions when rehearsals collide with Lego League. Dance class on Monday may get dropped.
Younger DD, however, has started at a new school and has taken a pass on extracurriculars this fall (at least until ski season). We'll see how it all shakes out. But mostly they're very happy and I'm the one who's a bit frazzled.

Posted by: annenh | September 29, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

It is a balancing act and I see parents suffering more than the kids typically!
I try to stick to one to two activities per kid but I have one involved in a play this fall -- it's at the school after school so only pick-up is involved -- but it means delaying dinner on multiple evenings. And it'll likely mean some tough decisions when rehearsals collide with Lego League. Dance class on Monday may get dropped.
Younger DD, however, has started at a new school and has taken a pass on extracurriculars this fall (at least until ski season). We'll see how it all shakes out. But mostly they're very happy and I'm the one who's a bit frazzled.

Posted by: annenh | September 29, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

My first grader has karate, he can go up to three times a week. At this time, I think it's enough, with there being so little time he's not in school. Oh, and he's at religious school on Sunday mornings, but to me, that's not debatable, he has to go.
Last year he also did soccer on sunday afternoons, but we did not sign him up and he did not ask. It just gets to be too much. We are thinking about adding an instrument, as I would love for him to do that, but we're waiting until we feel he can handle it. I have a neighbor who has her kid doing tennis, and piano, and swimming. It seems like a lot to me. For her kid, it may be the right thing *shrug* everyone is different.
At 3 (where my younger son is) we had been doing music class and soccer by this time. But we just don't see a need for music class at this time, and we don't think he could handle soccer, so he goes to school 5 days a week and that works out well for us.
It's such a pity life is the way it is now. When I was a kid, we did so many activities, but I walked to most of them (maybe by the time I was 12?). I had piano at home, but walked to any dance classes I was taking. Or acting or whatever. *sigh*

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 29, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

altmom, i think some of it comes from the competetion. rec league, traveling teams, all stars etc. when i was a kid, softball was not a big deal. now, it seems to me that baseball/softball is really hard core. same with gymnastics. not every kids is training for the olympics but you wouldn't realize it listening to some of the coaches.

Posted by: quark2 | September 29, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

It depends on the child, and also, what the parents can handle. It is much easier, obviously, if there's a stay-at-home parent in the mix. Otherwise, I'm not sure how parents would manage getting kids to various activities that start between 4:00-6:00. We try to limit my oldest to two activities and my youngest to one, but they are both interested in a lot of things, and we also don't count swim lessons/team as an activity -- more of a requirement. My son has told me he wants to take hockey, guitar, piano, tap, soccer, and basketball this fall. Good luck, kid!

Participation in sports has changed so much since I was a child. It seems so much more of a commitment (time and money) and so extreme. They seem to practice more and travel a LOT.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | September 29, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Older son has piano lessons on Tuesdays, and that's it for his extra-curriculars. He's taking his third year of h.s. drama classes, and this might be the year we let him try out for plays and do some sort of extra-curriculars around the school's drama department. Older son and I might start going to his h.s. football games just because we both enjoy watching the game.

Younger son was taking guitar lessons, but in June his teacher decided to take the summer off, and didn't come back in the fall. Between his band getting hot, and his day job as a school teacher, it was understandable that he had to let something go. Now younger son is learning cello as one of his middle school electives, so he's down to no extra-curricular activities. Most weeks he gets an week end play-date with his best friend, which requires a 20-30 minute drive each way.

DH handles all of it except the piano lessons - my responsibility. He also handles all the homework, and all the at-home music practicing.

Posted by: SueMc | September 29, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Sports are a lot different than when we were kids. There used to be little or no overlap between the seasons (soccer/football in the fall, basketball/wrestling in winter, baseball/softball in the spring, etc.) so kids could play multiple sports. Now even in the younger grades, a lot of them are year-round so it's much harder to play two or three sports.

Also, things seem to be much more "regionalized" now. When I was growing up, all the sports leagues were run locally so you could walk or ride your bike to practices and games. Even the competitve travel teams were based locally so the practices were easy to get to. It seems now that the leagues draw from wider areas so practices and games are farther from home, even for the rec leagues.

And ITA with WorkimgMomX that there seem to be a lot more practices and games than there used to be. I remember having practices and games 3 days a week for a sport, now it's more like 5-6 days a week.

It seems that other activities also have higher participation requirements. In response to Atlmom's comment about how we did so many activities when we were kids, IMO it was because each activity had a lower level of commitment needed. And as she said, we could get to them on our own so it was easier for our parents.

Posted by: dennis5 | September 29, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I think it works best when it's something your child really wants to do. Even if the parent has become involved in the organization you have to be ready to drop it.

I had a son who loved to play soccer, for a couple of years. We played another year, but the team had changed and he didn't like it so much. At that point I was the snack organizer. How could we quit?

You have to watch funneling younger sibs into the activities older ones have already gotten into.

I think if you stay tuned to your kid and only do what they really want to do that the stress factor reduces a lot.

However, I felt relgious school was a must. My sons were Ok with it, but probably would have bailed. In that case we continued on.

Posted by: RedBird27 | September 29, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Agree with RedBird about making sure the kids are doing what they like, and not just because you want them to do it. My oldest daughter's friend in high school was extremely good at soccer, traveled all over to play, including in Europe, because her dad was so into it. Her soccer playing was his religion. She asked once if she could drop one of the teams to try to have a little bit of a normal life, and was told no so forcefully she took matters into her own hands and started doing drugs so she'd be booted. She was a really good kid when she was younger. Now she's on public assistance, unmarried with two kids. She dropped out of high school at the end of junior year when she got pregnant with her first child. Well done, dad. A great example of parental over-involvement.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | September 29, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I think it's important to have kids involved in extracurricular activities. For one thing, they get to try out various activities that they might not get to do otherwise. Also, most moms don't seem to be home anymore, so unlike those of us who grew up back in the 50s and 60s, kids don't go home, get a snack, and run outside to play with the neighborhood kids. Thus, being involved in these activities provides a social outlet for them.

Of course, we don't live in small-town USA, at least not here in the DC area. This makes the job of getting to and from the activities one for the parents to manage, which of course can be stressful if you have two or more kids in different activities. Some limits need to be placed on the number and scope of activities for the sanity of parents--and the kids. Too many activities can burn out a kid.

We had our boys involved in the local level of soccer, football (as they got older), T-ball and then baseball, etc. They were involved in Cub and Boy Scouts and they were involved in our church. They took instrumental lessons--because they wanted to do this--during school and this has extended to their adult lives now.

It was hectic, but they enjoyed what they did, and when they got tired of it we let them drop an activity once the commitment ended for the season. They've been exposed to a variety of things, got to determine what they liked and were good at, and it gave them balance in their lives.

Oh, and thanks for requiring registration. I don't miss the trolls at all.

Posted by: lsturt | September 29, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

My son's only 3 so our rule is it has to be casual involvement. But I do think this is a golden age - he needs to be active, and it's nice that he gets introduced to things. We do one kindergym(nastics) and one swimming (mom-tot) class a week. At his daycare they do yoga and dance.

Posted by: Shandra1 | September 29, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I think it is important to remember as parents that the most valuable thing we can give our children is our time and our attention. While driving kids to myriad activities may feel like something you are doing for your kids, consider for a moment if they wouldn't be just as happy to go hit some tennis balls with you, or do a craft together. My father often said that parents need to be careful: that in trying to give our children everything, sometimes we fail to give them what they truly need.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | September 29, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

No kids here so I don't have room to talk for this discussion today but I just wanted to post a thank you to Wapo for requiring registration.

-Discoveri, formerly known as Meggers.

Posted by: discoveri | September 29, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

My son is just turning two, so no issues with overscheduling yet! But I wanted to add my thanks for the registering, too. It makes for a more pleasant read!

Posted by: mamabean | September 29, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

fr WorkingMomX:

>...My oldest daughter's friend in high school was extremely good at soccer, traveled all over to play, including in Europe, because her dad was so into it. Her soccer playing was his religion. She asked once if she could drop one of the teams to try to have a little bit of a normal life, and was told no so forcefully she took matters into her own hands and started doing drugs so she'd be booted. ...

I feel very sorry for that young lady, whose dad was obviously living through her.

Posted by: Alex511 | September 29, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

without trolls, it's quite possible that the conversation around here could get as boring as Stacey presents her topics. No humor, zilch on the entertainment scale, 4 yawners a week, and if she ever comments as rarely as she does, it's like the middle school teacher marm trying to get the class's attention.

This blog needs at least 1 troll or it'll become sleeping material for those whom like to take a nap during office hours.

Like today, for instance...

I'll volunteer to be that troll!

Any seconds on the motion?

Posted by: ISquirtLikeOldFaithful | September 29, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I kind of agree with your dad moxiemom... except I grew up in Toronto with American parents who didn't want to drive me to certain kinds of things (sports).

So for years I spent every skating party (birthdays, school 'treats,' high school house events) on my rear end feeling embarrassed. And I feel like I missed out on being on a team - I qualified for volleyball at school but for the other sports the kids who had lessons made the teams and I didn't.

Anyways, I think it's complex. Maybe there's no way to win. :)

Posted by: Shandra1 | September 29, 2008 3:55 PM | Report abuse

It's so civilied here today! Hope it ocntinues!

My son, almost 8, has martial arts for aftercare (we're about to end that for reasons I won't go into) and swim lessons. My daughter, 5, has ballet and swim lessons. For winter, I'll probably continue her in the swim lessons and think of something for my son (maybe music lessons). I schedule the lessons for Saturdays for the most part during the year, since both kids have homework, and I don't get home with them until about 6:30.

It takes a bit of a toll on me, but since I had to stay in the house so much as a latchkey kid, it feels good for me to be able to get them involved in activities.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | September 29, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Civilized, I mean.

Funny trolls are cool. But the trolls who perseverate on buggery have got to go!

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | September 29, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

i don't know moxiemom, i understand what you're saying but when the parent & child have very divergent interests it's hard to get that together time. you don't want to fake it because then the child doesn't exactly understand why dad/mom isn't having a good time. both of my brothers were sports mad & my dad couldn't have cared less. should my dad have faked it? i don't know.

Posted by: quark2 | September 29, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company