Does your school week involve a precarious juggling act of post-school activities with mind-blowing logistical dependancies? Maybe you breath a sigh of relief when half term is around the corner so that you, and your children can just have a break. We are all guilty, to some extent, of having over scheduled children but sometimes it’s hard to step off that treadmill.
The desire to open our children’s minds and enrich their experiences through extra activities comes from a good place. We want the best for our kids and learning a new sport, instrument or language teaches them crucial life skills such as leadership, teamwork, empathy and discipline. But are we actually doing them a disservice in the process?
With mental health issues on the rise in the UK, we need to be able to look out for signs of stress or anxiety in our kids. There’s a fine line between a culturally and those who are mentally enriched versus over scheduled children.
5 signs you have over scheduled children
They are over tired
Sounds obvious right? But if they are cramming school and activities from dawn to dusk it will take eventually takes its toll. Children need downtime after a long day, just as you do. If you yourself are shattered from being a glorified taxi driver and eating food on the go, then they almost certainly can feel it too. Tiredness can hamper their ability to think clearly, problem solve and make good decisions.
They can’t just BE
When children’s schedules are too organised then they don’t have time to just BE and use their imagination. If your child is highly energised and finds it difficult to unwind then they might unable to do this themselves. It’s vital that kids have the opportunity to just sit still and do nothing from time to time. If they struggle to make simple decisions without cues from you or if it’s rare to see them actually stop and do nothing at all then their schedule may causing them anxiety.
Aside from the normal fun teen and pre-teen hormones keep an eye out for tell tale mood swings. If your child is becoming anxious, moody, quiet, avoiding friends or spending less time with the family it might be a sign that they are being pulled in too many directions and cannot emotionally process it. As parents we need to ensure that we are not putting undue pressure onto our children with standards that are difficult to achieve.
School work slipping
Even a highly coveted place in the county team or the star role in the local drama academy isn’t worth school grades slipping for. If this is the case it might be a sign that your child’s energy is being sapped and their concentration levels are not what they should be in the classroom. Something may need to give.
The rest of the family is suffering
It’s not just one child who has to invest mentally and physically in the 5am swim practices or late night football sessions, it’s the rest of the family as well. Younger siblings who have no choice but to come for the ride or get tossed to friends or family to make logistics work can also feel the pressure. Be aware of the onus you are also putting on yourself, your husband/mother/friend who has a part in keeping this well oiled machine running.
So how do you simplify your family’s schedule
Here are 5 key strategies to get you on the way to a more relaxed and happy family life…
Set an activity limit per week
Ruthlessly go through your family schedule and work out what activities can be culled. Set an activity limit per week. American Pediatrician, Dr Deb Lonzer MD suggests choosing a maximum of 3 activities per week and sticking to that plan. If your child wants to start drumming or Tae Taekwondo then help them decide which existing activity they are going to drop in it’s place. It’s a good lesson in evaluating what is truly important to life in an effort to find their ultimate passion.
Learn how to say NO.
The two letter word that is sometimes so hard to say. Don’t overwhelm yourself and your children with an excess of social commitments. They really don’t have to go to every party or accept every playdate. Take a breath before responding to an invitation. Be selective over the important ones and politely decline the rest. Don’t feel guilty about being mamma-bear like about cutting into your weekend family time. You children will thank you for a bit of down time. If you struggle to prioritise and say no then check out 5 Ways to Say No and not feel guilty
Don’t let downtime become screen time. Kids need time to process the world around them and learn to develop their own imaginations. They need to get bored to get inspired and be creative. Here are some more great tips on managing screen time. As an exercise, ask you child what they would do if they had more free time during the week or at the weekend. You might be surprised at their reply.
Focus on what is important
Keep the bonds with your family strong and your children strong. Consider unburdening your children from commitments that don’t justify their energy or time. That unburdening goes for adults too! Make a rule that one day / afternoon / evening of the weekend is sacred family time and let nothing get in its way. Hang out more together. Whether you spend it hiking a mountain, playing football, baking a cake or playing a board game together is up to you. Different families have different paces of life. Find yours.
Bring back the Simple pleasures
When we say simplify your life. We really do mean just that. Our kids plough through ‘high notes’ of the week from school, homework, sports to piano and dance practice but they need to have a balance. Bring back the ‘low notes’ or simple pleasures to allow their imaginations to run wild. From rock pooling by the beach, to brushing their dogs coat or colouring a picture. Immersing themselves in nature and the world around them will help them to really switch off and unwind.