Your Child’s Extracurricular Activities: Too Much or Just Right

Piano lessons. Soccer practice. Swimming lessons. Tutoring sessions. After spending a full day in a child care facility or at school, many children also participate in extracurricular activities in the evenings or during the weekends. As a parent, you want to introduce your child to new experiences and opportunities and foster their interests. Extracurricular activities can be positive and fulfilling for your child. However, your child also needs to be able to enjoy downtime; quality time with family; and time to complete school responsibilities, such as homework or reading. Before you enroll your child in the next activity, you may want to consider if your child’s extracurricular activity schedule is too much or just right?

The Pros

For many children, participating in extracurricular activities can positively impact their social skills, academic abilities, and physical development. In addition, extracurricular activities can provide safety and supervision for a period of time when children may otherwise be unsupervised. Further, extracurricular activities can offer opportunities for your child to be physically active as opposed to being sedentary and engaging in behaviors such as watching TV, scrolling on social media, or playing video games.

The Cons

Engaging in too many extracurricular activities or participating in activities that do not interest your child can have a negative impact on your child. In deciding whether your child should continue, cut back, or stop participating in an extracurricular activity, look for signs that your child may feel overscheduled. Signs of overscheduling may include the following symptoms in your child:

  • Being tired, anxious, or depressed
  • Experienced headaches or stomachaches due to stress, poor eating habits, or lack of sleep
  • Falling behind on schoolwork or experiencing a drop in grades
  • Showing a loss of interest in activity

Additional Considerations

Your child may not show signs of overscheduling, or the symptoms may be mild, or they may come and go. The following questions can help you further understand if your child’s extracurricular activities are helping or hindering their growth and development.

Time – How much time do you spend with your child? Does your child spend time with friends or other family members? Do you and your child long to spend more time together or with other family members?

School – Is the time spent on extracurricular activities getting in the way of academics (e.g., falling behind on homework or assignments, declining grades)? Does participation in activities encourage your child to do well in school (e.g., maintaining a minimum grade point average in order to participate)?

Rest – Is your child getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age? Does your child have unstructured time to play, think, or create?

Interests – Does your child seem to enjoy the activity? Do you have to convince or bribe them to go to practices or participate while they are there?

Costs – Do the costs associated with your child’s activities fit comfortably into your family’s budget (e.g., fees, uniforms, equipment, travel)? Are you sacrificing necessities so that your child can participate?

Talk it Through with Your Child

Extracurricular activities can serve as an enriching experience for your child and family. However, unstructured downtime is also important. If you notice your child is exhibiting signs of being overscheduled, have a conversation with them. Talking with them about their participation in extracurricular activities can help you learn which activities they enjoy the most and which ones they may not enjoy or enjoy less than they used to. Your child may also express a desire to spend more free time with friends and family or simply have evenings when they can be at home and relax. This information can help you determine how to adjust your child’s extracurricular activities to align with their interests and needs. Together, you can create a schedule that works best for your child and your family.

References

American College of Pediatricians. (2016, March 16). Overscheduled! https://archive.acpeds.org/overscheduled

Cleveland Clinic. (16 July, 2018). Is your child overscheduled? Kids need ‘down time.’ Healthessentials. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-your-child-overscheduled-kids-need-down-time/

Mahoney, J. L., Harris, A. L., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Organized activity participation, positive youth development, and the over-scheduling hypothesis. Social Policy Report. Society for Research in Child Development, 20(4), 1-32. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2379-3988.2006.tb00049.x

Schiffrin, H. H., Godfrey, H., Liss, M., & Erchull, M. J. (2015). Intensive parenting: Does it have the desired impact on child outcomes? Journal of Child and Family Studies24(8), 2322-2331. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-014-0035-0

Wedge, M. (2014, August 16). Overscheduled Kids: How much of a good thing is too much? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/suffer-the-children/201408/overscheduled-kids

Adolescent Mental Health: Parenting to Wellness Available Now!

Adolescent Mental Health: Parenting to Wellness is now available! This online supplemental parent-education program offers support to parents and caregivers of adolescents who experience mental health challenges.

Parents and caregivers want to see their children grow up to be happy and productive adults. Good mental health is a critical component of reaching this goal, and having good mental health is as important as having good physical health. Assessment and treatment of mental health conditions can provide children and their families with information and strategies they can use to manage symptoms, learn coping skills, and strive for their most meaningful life.

Adolescent Mental Health: Parenting to Wellness defines and explains common disorders that parents and caregivers may be navigating with their adolescents and introduces skills and strategies they can use to help support their children. This supplemental module covers when to seek help, how to seek help, what to expect when you do seek help, how to offer support to your child, and how to find support for yourself.

This supplemental module builds on information and strategies discussed in the Thrive Branch Out parenting program, which provides parent education for parents and caregivers of adolescents who are 10 to 18 years old. Therefore, it is recommended that you participate in the Branch Out program prior to using the supplemental module.

You can gain immediate access to the Branch Out and Adolescent Mental Health: Parenting to Wellness parent-education programming by clicking on the appropriate link listed below!

Healthy Habits

Part of being a parent means that you often put the needs of your child before your own. However, when a parent or caregiver ignores their own needs, they may become overwhelmed, and this situation could negatively impact their health or compromise their ability to care for a child. One way that parents can practice daily self-care is by developing habits that benefit their overall well-being.

Habits are behaviors that are routinely exhibited; are often performed automatically and without much, if any, conscious thought; and take minimal effort. Habits can be a regular part of your daily schedule – like making time every week for exercise, choosing nutritious food options at the grocery store, or driving home the same way after work each day. Good habits can create efficiency in your daily tasks and growth in your general well-being.

Many people have healthy and unhealthy habits, or behaviors, that they perform as part of their daily routines. Healthy habits are habits that can promote your well-being, increase your positive communication skills, or expand your personal growth and development. Healthy habits are an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and may include activities like getting an adequate amount of sleep each night or making it a priority to cook and eat healthy meals. Unhealthy habits, on the other hand, can negatively impact your health and even your relationships. Some examples of unhealthy habits may include overeating; smoking; drinking in excess; or, routinely, not getting enough rest.

Practicing healthy habits can help you feel better in the present and can promote long-term well-being benefits. Using healthy habits as a means of parental self-care can benefit you and your family over time. Furthermore, by maintaining healthy habits, you are modeling positive behaviors for your children. By consistently modeling these behaviors, you are showing your children that developing healthy habits is a good thing and having their own healthy habits will be important in their development and well-being.

Some examples of healthy habits are the following:

  • Getting at least 7 hours of sleep nightly

  • Exercising regularly

  • Setting aside time every day for mediation or self-reflection

  • Choosing to drink water over sugar-sweetened beverages

  • Attending regularly scheduled doctor visits

If you need help developing healthy habits, you can start by reviewing the following four stages of behavior change. According to the National Institute of Health, these changes need to take place in your life in order for you to create good or healthy habits:

Contemplation

This is the stage in which you decide that a change needs to take place and you decide that you want that change to take place. Sometimes, you realize that, in your life, something is wrong or that something could be improved. While you are in the contemplation stage you may not know how you are going to make this change, but you do understand a change is needed.

Example – You may realize that you are feeling low on energy every day because you are not getting enough sleep

Preparation

This is the stage in which you begin to think about how you want to or can bring the needed change to your life. During this phase, you will have decided to make changes, and you will begin to set goals for making those changes. You are laying the groundwork for the path to change and strategizing about ways to overcome the obstacles you may face. This is the stage right before you take action to change behaviors.

Example – After realizing you are not getting enough sleep, you start to think of ways you can fit more sleep into your schedule. Perhaps you decide to go to bed earlier or get up later, or, if there is time during the day, you decide to take a short nap.

Keep in mind the following questions as you prepare to create a healthy habit:

  • Are your goals reasonable and specific?
  • Is this something you would like friends or family to participate in?
  • Is your environment making it easy to accomplish your goals?

Example – If you would like to establish a healthier diet, have you removed junk food and replaced it with healthier options?

Action

During this stage, you put your behavior change plan into motion. You are learning how to manage the needed changes in your routine and lifestyle, and you work to make these changes become part of your routine. You are also learning about what strategies you can use to effectively overcome the obstacles that may be preventing you from making positive behavior gains. Also, during this stage, the changed behaviors are becoming a more normalized and part of your routine and life, and you are, hopefully, beginning to see the fruits of your labor.

Example – You have decided on a plan to get more sleep. Maybe you are not watching television as late as you used to, or maybe you were able to find time in the afternoon to schedule a nap.

Maintenance

By now, your changed behavior feels like a more natural part of your life, and you may not even be giving it much thought. However, you need to make sure that you continue with the positive behavior changes. You may take a step back from time to time, this is normal, but it is important for you to get back on track and return to your new behaviors, so these behaviors can remain a normal part of your life.

Example – Now that you have been getting enough sleep and are consistently able to get adequate rest, you find you have more energy. However, sometimes you notice that for a couple of nights in a row you have watched an extra hour of television before bed. When you realize this is happening, you make an effort to get back to going to bed at an earlier time every night, so you reinforce your healthy habit and do not support an unhealthy habit.

Remember, breaking bad habits and making new ones can be very challenging. It is important to be patient with yourself and avoid becoming frustrated. Sometimes, mental health challenges can also get in the way of healthy habit development. If you feel like you may be experiencing some mental health concerns, be sure to meet with your healthcare professional so you can address any underlying challenges.

References

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2020, November). Changing your habits for better health. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diet-nutrition/changing-habits-better-health