Is overscheduling causing anxiety in our kids?

kids playing jenga

He’s learning Chinese because it is the language of the future. He has to do a sport because all children have to play a sport; games on the weekend will teach him how to win and lose. Music is non-negotiable of course, it’s good for brain development. Scouts are great because it’s a non-competitive activity so he can experience doing things for the sake of doing things. Overscheduling? I think not, we simply can’t drop any of these activities if we want him to live up to his potential.

And therein lies the heart of the argument any Parent (with a capital ‘p’) lays carefully out when discussing their hectic lives with friends after their superfood smoothie following an F45 workout.

After-school activities can be beneficial

child celebrating win

There is an argument that overscheduling is a major cause of the burgeoning epidemic of anxiety experienced by our children across Australia. But some after-school activities in a child’s area of interest are beneficial providing they are focused on a process, not an outcome.

Occasionally…. very occasionally… a child is genuinely talented at something and has a deep desire to do it regularly. It’s important to be self-aware when considering talent. We’ve all thought our children were brilliant at some time or another, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be the next David Beckham, the next Drew Barrymore or the next Lourde.

Before you sign up for another activity…

child relaxing after school activity

There are three questions you should ask yourself before signing up your child for yet another activity.

1. Is my child learning this activity anywhere else? Don’t double up. If they’re playing music at preschool or doing swimming at school, ask yourself seriously why they need more. If you think they should be a competent musician, ask yourself ‘why?’. Some people have valid answers… most don’t. Hoping that music will increase brain development is not a valid reason to undertake a class.  If your child is doing this activity anywhere else, be brave and say no.

2. Is the purpose of this activity a developmental ‘outcome’ you feel is necessary for your child? – and can that outcome be achieved anywhere else? A child begins to play a sport because a parent believes they should know how to ‘play in a team’, understand winning and losing and the value of practice whilst getting fit. A child recently gave the following answer to a parent who thought his son should start soccer “I play music in an ensemble [team], I practice violin [perseverance], if I don’t practice I make mistakes. [a loss] If I practice, it sounds great [a win]. I ride my bike to school and we go on walks at the weekend [fitness]. I don’t think I need to play a sport.” Children can achieve outcomes in many different ways. If the ‘outcome’ is achieved somewhere else, be content and let it go.

3. Is the majority of my child’s time free time? It might seem obvious, but until they enter high school, all evidence suggests that most of your child’s waking hours should be ‘free time’. A primary school child has an average of five possible free time hours each day. If children are at after-school care, this becomes one or two hours. Most of this time should be free time. It allows the gives the body a chance to relax, rests a child’s brain and turns off their stress response. Drama is one organised activity that encourages unstructured time and play. Games and activities played in drama classes nourish freedom of thought and actions. But beware, free time also means that a child shouldn’t be directed by an adult. Choose a drama class carefully!

Opportunities lie in gaps between activities

There is a wonderful Singaporean word which should be added to the universal parenting vocabulary. The word ‘kiasu’ describes a person very anxious not to miss any opportunity. It is not a compliment and we’d be wise not to embrace it. As parents, the greatest opportunity for our children lies in the gaps between activities and the sooner we realise that, the better!

Many thanks to Julie Englefield, General Manager, Brisbane Arts Theatre, for this article.

Disclaimer: Julie’s eldest son learns Chinese, plays tennis and studies violin. She is a contented kiasu mother who has studiously avoided F45.

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