Soccer, cheerleading, science club, marching band, karate. That might be just one child's weekly schedule. According to "All Work and No Play? Listening to What Kids and Parents Really Want from Out-of-School Time," a recent study by the nonpartisan opinion research organization Public Agenda, 79 percent of America's middle and high school students regularly participate in activities both after school and on weekends, and 57 percent have some kind of non-school activity nearly every day. The study also reports that 85 percent of young people say that their after-school activities are enormously important to them.
As the school year approaches, you're likely thinking about which activities your child can comfortably handle after school. The experts at KidsHealth say that even well-intentioned parents can sometimes overschedule their kids, thinking that a variety of activities are good for self-confidence, socialization and those dreaded college applications. Therefore, it is important to create a realistic schedule each season.
"My son made the school and the traveling soccer team, which eats up most of every weekend, and gets us out of the house by 6 a.m.," says mom of three Caitlin McKenna. "He enjoys it on most days, but it takes a toll on our family schedule. We miss just about every family party, because the teams frown upon missing practices and games."
Those after-school activities can have an impact, on your child and on you. As you think about registering your child for multiple sports and activities, also think about the stress from overscheduling. KidsHealth says that top signs that kids are too busy are complaints of headaches and stomachaches due to stress, missed meals, lack of sleep, falling behind on schoolwork, underperforming on tests, fatigue, anxiety and depression.
Set limits. Here are ways to help manage your child's after-school activities:
--Choose activities based on your child's age, interest level, abilities and temperament. KidsHealth says, "If something's too advanced, the experience is likely to be frustrating. If it isn't engaging, kids will be bored. And when kids do something only to please their parents, it defeats the whole purpose."
--Start slowly. Begin with only one sport per season, choosing one that doesn't have a practice or game schedule every day.
--Check in with school organizers or coaches to get a realistic view of the required time commitment before you sign up your child. Create a plan with your partner, parents or other loved ones for driving and attending the activities.
--Know the expenses involved. Some teams require equipment and uniforms, and some clubs require dues.
--Create a schedule for before and after all after-school activities to keep kids in balance. If, say, Scouting starts at 7 p.m., then kids will have to do homework from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
--Create a plan for equipment and uniform cleaning and maintenance. Teach younger kids to deliver their uniforms to the laundry room after every practice and game, and teach older kids how to remove grass stains from their uniforms so that they may handle their own laundry needs. Set out shoe brushes and a mat for muddy cleats at a specialized cleaning station, and designate storage spots for other equipment.
--Plan to spend equal time with all of your children, regardless of whether they are involved in activities.
--Keep a calendar to stay organized. Display it on your refrigerator, in plain sight, so that you're always in-the-know about timing, and can arrange transportation easily.
--Set priorities. Schoolwork comes first, followed by family commitments. If the activity cuts into either of those, the child may need to drop it.
--Allow for downtime. Everyone in the family needs time to unwind and relax.
You may worry that allowing your child to quit after-school activities will create a negative habit. David Elkind, author of "The Hurried Child," says that parents should be relieved to know there is no evidence of "transfer of training." In other words, just because a child quits soccer doesn't mean he'll grow up to quit every job he has. Elkind also says that children in preschool "may learn to put their toys away after playing in a classroom, but we know from research that it doesn't transfer over to their house!" Therefore, you should consider having your child quit when an activity isn't fun anymore or if it hurts your child's self-esteem. Then it might be time to move on to a different activity.