My neighbor Isabella is the picture of productivity. She works hard all day as a full-time student, exercises regularly at three dance classes a week and one karate session, and attends church every Sunday. Oh, and when her French lessons end next month, she's hoping to start taking an art class too. That is, if she can get home in time to finish her homework and get to bed by 9 p.m. After all, she is only 8.
Sound familiar? School-age kids spend an average of five hours per week on organized extracurricular activities, but others log much more time, up to a staggering 20 hours each week, according to a Society for Research in Child Development report. As early as first grade, children have days that are booked as tight as a CEO's. One reason? "Seven- and 8-year-olds want to sample everything," says Betsy Brown Braun, author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents. "Their enthusiasm for new activities is thrilling. It's just what every parent wants to see, so it can be hard to say no."
Unfortunately, filling up your child's days may not only drain your bank account, it can also leave her running on empty when activities cut into time for homework, meals, and shut-eye. Doing too much can also lead to stress that may be harmful to her health. To help your child strike the right balance between being active and overextended, try these pointers from parenting pros.
Zero In on Her Passions
With dozens of activities available, choosing which ones to let your kid try can be challenging -- especially when she wants to try them all. "Consider how much your child has been asking to get involved in a certain activity," says Braun. "Has she been mentioning tae kwon do a few times a week? Then it's likely to be something she will love and stick with." And don't immediately discount the things your child might want to experiment with simply because her pals are participating in them -- kids may feel more comfortable sampling a class or an activity when they can share it with a friend.