How many organized after-school activities are necessary and healthy for your kids? It is definitely important to encourage extracurricular activities. Too much downtime is inevitably spent watching television, playing on a mobile or a tablet and bickering with siblings. In addition, it is important for kids to learn how to balance mandatory activities like homework, household chores and tooth brushing with their fun, elective activities.
It is also critical for kids to work on the important skill of follow-through. Kids and t(w)eens should be exposed to new experiences in order to broaden their horizons. When they learn multiple sports, try out different instruments, participate in the math club, etc., they learn that one can stretch both body and brain, and perhaps even find their true passion early on in life.
While creating a schedule for your child that encourages extracurricular exploration, it is also important to keep in mind that for all children, there is a fine line between just enough activities and too many activities!
But if you follow these five steps, you can be confident that you will strike exactly the right balance:
1. Your child should only have one regular after-school activity on a given day (this includes mandatory activities like religious education). On a weekend, it is okay to have one mandatory activity (like religious school) and one fun activity (like soccer practice), as long as your child is happy about it.
2. The majority of elementary school-age children or younger should not be formally committed to an activity for more than two weekdays and one weekend day per week. Even kids who want to participate in an organized activity more often should be discouraged from doing so. They don’t realize that they are likely to ‘burn out’ physically and emotionally. (The rare child will become a sport professional or go to the Olympics!)
3. Most kids can use one weekday off from any formal activities (usually Friday is a good day for this), so they have time to play with their friends.
4. Younger kids should have their activities scheduled right after school so they aren’t tired and already settled in at home.
5. Once signed up for an activity, a child should be strongly encouraged not to miss a practice or session. It is important for kids to learn they have a commitment to a team; that follow-through is important; that activities cost money. Therefore, except for truly extenuating circumstances, complaints of: “I’m tired, can I skip this week?” or, “I don’t like this, can I quit?” should be met with, “You need to stick it out until the end of the semester, and then we can reconsider.”
Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized child psychologist, speaker and award-winning author. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. Learn more about Dr. Bartell at drsusanbartell.com.
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