Is Your Kid Too Busy?

More Ways to Help Your Child Balance Work and Play

Plan for Now -- and the Future

Think about how you could spread out your child's wish list over the entire year rather than crunching it into one season, suggests Claire McCarthy, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston and mom of five. For instance, you might want to save time-intensive T-ball for summer when school is out. Agree on a maximum number of activity hours a week -- no more than four to six is a good limit for kids this age -- rather than how many things he can join. Be sure to factor in time for games, tournaments, and performances, and not just the practices and lessons.

Deal With Disappointment

Setting limits on activities likely means having to say no to at least one request. "In that case, it's important to let your child know that you respect her wishes," says Braun. "Acknowledge what she wants, but explain that four extracurricular activities is too much." Once you fill her in on the reasons behind your rejection (time, money, scheduling conflicts), brainstorm a solution together. Try saying, "Rather than doing both soccer and art classes in the fall, why don't you do one in the spring instead?" Allowing your child to be involved in the decision-making when you say no can lighten the letdown. Another frustration you might face: After weeks of pleading to take Italian lessons, your child might want to say arrivederci to her studies. Sidestep this scenario by visiting a class or doing a trial before signing on the dotted line. If a dry run isn't possible, lay out a time frame with your child. "Explain that you are signing up for a specific number of lessons, and if she doesn't like it after those wrap up, she can stop," says Braun.

Strike a Healthy Balance

Even with two or three activities, it's easy for children to get overwhelmed and anxious when rushing from home to school to activity with no time to take a breather. Dr. McCarthy suggests watching for red flags. "Moodiness, sleep trouble, fatigue, injuries from sports, and slipping grades are all signs that your kid is doing too much," she says. To help tweak your child's teeming schedule, pencil in a few precious moments to do absolutely nothing. "Children need time to rest and relax," says Dr. McCarthy. "The imaginative play that they engage in during unstructured time is absolutely crucial for their intellectual and emotional development."

Originally published in the December 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

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