Your daughter has flute lessons on Saturday morning, ice skating in the afternoon, church choir on Sunday morning, Girl Scouts on Sunday afternoon, homework every weeknight, and soccer or gymnastics every day after school. But when is the last time she had the chance to just sit on the porch, watch the clouds, and daydream? Or maybe draw a picture or climb a tree?
There is a limitless amount of activities available to today's kids, from the tried and true options -- like piano, football, and scouting, -- to contemporary offerings, like digital photography classes or Mandarin Chinese lessons. It all sounds so exciting, and surely learning all these new skills will benefit our kids. But when is it too much for one child to handle?
In WebMD's online discussion about Healthy Family Routines, guest parenting expert Tanya Altmann, MD, advises parents to introduce their children to a diverse array of activities -- then step back and let the children choose one or two that they truly like. It might be hard for an ambitious parent to accept, but Altmann says that one or two extracurricular activities per year or per season are all that most kids can really handle.
An important trait that kids develop from participating in activities is responsibility -- keeping up with the commitments of being truly involved. This means showing up on time for practice, completing additional or required tasks, and participating fully -- which is another reason it's important not to overcommit. Don't underestimate the importance of down time, Altmann adds. A child with nothing on his schedule is a child who has to use his imagination to decide what to do next -- and that's not a bad thing.
Finally, don't forget one activity that's vital to your child's health: sleep. Overscheduled kids can end up sacrificing important hours of sack time. Children need at least 10 hours of sleep a night, and missing out on rest is bad for their health. Overscheduled children can also become stressed children, so make sure they have room to just be kids, Altmann advises.
How do you strike a balance between all your child's activities and important down time?