As soon as her son came back from school, Meera said, “Ravi freshen up quickly and have your snacks, we have to leave for the music class in 20 minutes. Also, don’t forget to pack everything that you need for your tennis practice later.”
As Ravi started gulping down the snacks, Meera impatiently looked at her watch. “Hurry up. We need to finish everything and come back in time for you to attend your tuition classes,” she said. While this is Ravi’s usual schedule, on weekends, he also attends yoga sessions early in the morning, and swimming and martial arts classes later on.
Ravi’s busy schedule could even put a bee to shame! It leaves him with no time to spend with friends, pursue a hobby, watch TV, or enjoy some free time admiring the sunset or just counting the stars. His mother Meera too is perpetually busy, as she has taken it upon herself to monitor Ravi’s progress and ensure that he sticks to the timetable.
Nowadays, parents are more willing than ever to go the extra mile to give their children the best education, make them learn more skills, provide them with better facilities and explore new opportunities for them.
But, the problem begins when, in trying to do all this, parents overburden their children by cramming many activities into their children’s schedule. In his article, ‘Too Much on Their Plates: Child Anxiety and Overscheduling,’ published on anxietyfreechild.com (2012), author Rich Presta says, “Overscheduled kids are more prone to irritability, tiredness and an inability to focus. Children with anxiety already struggle with feelings of fear and nervousness, and adding too many activities can make these symptoms much harder to deal with.”
Let’s look at some of the signs of overscheduling, what it does to the child, and how to restore balance in the child’s life.
Signs of an overcrowded schedule
While some children may relish the various opportunities coming their way, most struggle, or fail, to keep pace with a hectic routine. Here’s how you can figure out if you have overscheduled your child:
- When you look at your child’s daily schedule, you find that she is rushing from one class to the next
- Your child has to take her naps and eat her snacks while she travels from one class to the next
- Even the annual school vacation doesn’t allow your child the time to take a break as she has some class or the other to attend
- Your child doesn’t have the free time to enjoy normal childhood activities. For example, playing with her toys or spending time with friends — in fact, your child doesn’t even have the time to make friends!
- Your child doesn’t have the time to involve herself in everyday family activities like having meals together or connecting with family members
- Your child is awake late into the night doing homework or completing some project or rehearsing for something
What overscheduling can do to your child
As the old adage goes, excess of everything is bad. Making a child do too many things at a time can be a recipe for disaster. Here are some of the dangers of overscheduling your child:
- Starts showing signs of stress. For example, falling ill frequently or even feigning illness, taking a long time to recover from injuries, being irritated, moody or anxious most of the time
- Grades start dropping. While children, by nature, are restive, it doesn’t mean that they have an unending reservoir of energy. Keeping up with a busy schedule saps a child of all his energy and renders him unable to focus, concentrate and put in effort.
- No longer enjoys doing things he used to enjoy previously. For example, activities he enjoyed earlier such as attending daily music classes or undergoing rigorous training in sports look like chores to him now
- Unable to keep up with schedules: With too many things to do, and the time set for every activity, the child finds it difficult to keep up with his schedule. This can lead to frustration and disappointment and a subsequent drop in productivity.
- Feels anxious and overwhelmed. Before the start of exams or a performance for which he would have prepared well, your child starts worrying and feels nervous. He suffers from a lack of self-confidence.
How to unburden your child’s schedule and restore balance
While engaging your child in activities benefits her in many ways, going overboard can be detrimental to her physical and emotional health. If you feel that your child’s schedule is overburdened, here’s what you can do to restore balance.
- Cut back on activities: Instead of eliminating some of the activities altogether, try to cut back their frequency. For example, instead of attending four music classes in a week, your child can attend two. Ask your child which activities she would like to cut back on to come to a decision.
- Create free time: Make it a point to allow your child to have an hour of free time every day and a few hours during the weekends to indulge in her hobbies, catch up with friends, or just laze around.
- Scrutinise daily routine: Before you set out to engage your child in anything, take a look at your child’s daily schedule. This will help you understand how much time your child can devote daily, or in a week, to learning a new skill without it affecting what she is already involved with or becoming detrimental to her health.
- Prioritise relationships: Childhood is a passing phase, and before you know, your child would grow up into an adult and head out to live her own life. So, before you plan your child’s schedule, make sure that you set aside time to bond together as a family.
- Be choosy: Nowadays, there are a lot of things, both products and skill sets, that are marketed as being indispensable for a better childhood and a bright future. But, before you fall for any of those advertisements, question yourself if it would enrich your child’s life or just make her life busier.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but, replacing the apple with some downtime every day,a few minutes of extra sleep daily, and a more relaxed schedule can also have the same effect. Now that you know about the hazards of overscheduling your child, introspect well to come up with a satisfying answer to the question, “Why should my child be engaged in any activity?,” to help you plan her schedule.
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