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Kids and After-School Activities: Is It Too Much?

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Unfortunately, there's not a prescription for reclaiming family life. "Every family has unique needs, so you've got to figure out what works for you," Doherty says. "But it's a good idea to let children know that sometimes they have to make sacrifices for the good of the family," he advises.

Here's what some of Doherty's clients have done to get their lives back:

  • Limit each child to one sport per season, plus one other activity.
  • Reduce the number of children in the family who participate during any one sports season.
  • Begin making decisions now about next season or next year.
  • Enjoy a summer "sabbatical" from all outside activities.

Doherty's message, from his book Take Back Your Kids, has struck such a chord that one group of Minnesota parents is calling for an across-the-board slowdown for families.

The group, called Family Life 1st, "just began as a town meeting of parents, coaches, ministers, and Scout leaders" in the town of Wayzata, says organizer Carol Bergenstal, a mother of two teens. "Surprisingly, most of them have been receptive to our concerns."

But the group didn't stop there. "Now we're in the process of developing a seal of approval for organizations that respect the need for regular family dinners, outings, and vacations," Bergenstal tells WebMD. "And we've gotten dozens of calls from all over the country about how to start such an initiative."

One Maryland mother has started a slowdown of her own. "After-school activities are important for the health and well-being of children, but they can create a lot of tension in families with two working parents," says Angela Mickalide, PhD, a pediatric public health expert from Kensington. "Our family life was becoming so fragmented that I decided to call a family meeting to set some priorities and make some choices."

Her 7- and 8-year-old soccer players opted out of choir and chose Scouting over a second sport, but they're planning to hang in there with piano lessons. "Andrew doesn't have the maturity and experience to understand completely, but Anna will enjoy having more time for creative pursuits like coloring," Mickalide tells WebMD.

For the remaining activities, Mickalide has had good success with a few ground rules:

  • Homework is completed from 3-5 p.m., before extracurricular activities begin.
  • Children are responsible for gathering their own equipment.
  • The family always eats dinner together afterward.

For more information, visit familylife1st.org.

 

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