With summer in full swing you’re plenty busy. You have swimming lessons, baseball practice, soccer practice AND summer vacation coming up. Add the sleepovers and weekend picnics and you’ve got a pretty full plate. But this is good, right? After all, you don’t want your kids to be couch potatoes during the summer. You want them to be active and to have a great summer filled with as many fun activities as possible before they have to go back to school. But did you know that overscheduling your kids can be bad for them, too?
It’s true, overscheduling your kids can be just as bad as underscheduling your kids. In some ways it can actually be worse. When kids are overscheduled they start to feel anxiety and stress because they don’t have time to relax. Even if your kids are old enough now to not need naps they still need enough downtime to decompress and relax a little. Just like a grown up, this helps them collect their thoughts and recharge for the next activity. If they don’t have this downtime to recharge then they begin to feel stress and pressure which is often exhibited behaviorally (like yelling, throwing things, or just being downright ornery).
Children Need Structure but Not Too Much Structure
Another benefit of having downtime is that children get the opportunity to create their own fun. As a parent, you want to provide your child with all the opportunities you never had. So you sign them up for baseball or horseback riding lessons, etc. These kinds of structured events are good because it gives your child something predictable to look forward to, but too many structured events can actually stifle your child’s imagination and self-reliance.
Through unstructured play time, children are forced to come up with games of their own to create their own fun. Creating their own fun does a lot of good for their development. For example, it teaches them social skills as they work with other children to create activities, it also teaches them self-reliance so they can depend on themselves when they want entertainment or something fun to do without it being given to them. Unstructured free play also teaches your child to use their imagination and invent new kinds of play and fun. This helps them get to know themselves by exploring and developing their own self-interests.
How Much Is Too Much?
One of the most common questions I get as a family counselor is “How do I know when I am overscheduling my kids? Well, there are a couple of predictable signs that your child will give you to help you know.
1) Sudden disinterest. If your child loves soccer but suddenly doesn’t look forward to going or doesn’t want to kick the ball in the back yard anymore, that’s a good sign that they may be beginning to resent it.
2) They become temperamental. If your child is 12 or under they have a hard time describing what they’re thinking and feeling. That part of the brain just hasn’t developed yet. So instead of talking about what they’re thinking or feeling they act out. So you may see them suddenly start withdrawing or behaving badly. They may start arguing with their siblings more or getting suddenly angry over small things. When their brain doesn’t get to rest they experience stress and you see start seeing bizarre behavior.
3) They want to stay home. While children may not be able to describe what they’re feeling they can (and do) express what they want to do. As a result, they may start telling you that they want to stay home or they don’t want to go certain places. When this happens, listen to them. They may not be able to describe what they’re feeling but they still know – and show it.
4) They start fighting more. Just like a grown up, when your child starts feeling stressed or overscheduled they become a lot shorter with you and their siblings. This means that they’ll start arguing more, fighting more, and being disagreeable. You’ll also see a lot more sibling rivalry. But don’t take it personally. Take it as a sign they need to relax more.
5) Their sleep becomes irregular. If your child starts sleeping more than usual, that’s a good sign that they’re needing more down time. Or if they start sleeping less and being more cranky that’s a good sign of the same thing.
With summer or anytime of the year you want to make sure your kids are having enough activities to keep them active and happy. But too much of a good thing is still too much. Watch for these signs and feel free to let your child be bored once in a while. The consequences of infrequent boredom are a lot better than overscheduling them. Plus, they get a chance to relax and unwind – which is an integral part of a carefree childhood.