11 Reasons Overscheduling Your Child Isn’t Healthy

11 Reasons Overscheduling Your Child Isn’t Healthy

You might think planning lots of activities for your child is good, but experts disagree.

By Judy Koutsky

Monday is soccer, Tuesday is tennis, Wednesday is art, and so on. Does this sound familiar? Many kids these days have a full calendar of activities each week. But we talked to experts who explain why overscheduling your child isn’t beneficial.

1. Too much pressure. “There is strong pressure on parents to ‘prepare’ kids for the future and to provide them with the opportunities to be competitive adults in the professional world. This pressure has led many parents to feel like their children cannot succeed without a myriad of extra skills to pad college applications and future resumes,” says Alessandra Wall, a clinical psychologist specializing in child and adolescent psychology in San Diego, California.

2. No time for friends. Building friendships is a critical social and emotional skill that will serve children throughout their lives. And yet, who has the time? “Being overscheduled can cause children to have difficulty maintaining friendships with peers due to not having enough free time to spend with them and to build their relationship,” says Andrea Stephenson, a clinical psychologist.

3. No benefits of downtime. One common assumption is that a child needs special training, more course work, and more organized, structured learning time. “Parents and many educators have lost their understanding of what free play and downtime can offer a child in terms of growth, development, and intellectual stimulation,” says Wall. Each child grows and develops in his or her own way, but it’s hard to do this when every second is accounted for.

4. Exhaustion. “When you are rushing around from one planned activity, class, or sport to the next, children are constantly in structured environments and they can become exhausted,” says Stephenson. As any parent knows, exhaustion can lead to irritability, and in many cases, temper tantrums.

5. Can’t deal with boredom. “More than at any other point in our history, parents are expected to engage at all times with their children. Many parents have lost the ability to tolerate the initial phases of boredom in their children and perceive this boredom as a sign of either failure on their part as a parent to stimulate their children or a sign of wasted potential,” says Wall. But boredom is actually not a bad thing. It forces kids to think of things to do. It actually promotes cognitive development.

6. Never learn to be alone. “Being alone and learning how to occupy themselves will help kids become more independent and resourceful. It is always amazing to see the things they come up with when they get that downtime,” says Stephenson. Plus, being comfortable by yourself is an important life skill that’s great for kids to master early on.

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7. Parents bow out on parenting. “Scheduling activities and sports for children becomes a very convenient way for often tired and overworked parents to both fulfill their children's activity and intellectual needs, while avoiding complaints about boredom and giving themselves a break from having to be the ones to entertain their children,” says Wall. If your child is completely scheduled after school, there’s no time for parent/child interaction, which is essential for kids to learn manners and good behavior.


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8. Anxiety. “Overscheduling can create increased stress and anxiety for children. Over the last several years, there has been an increase in anxiety-related disorders due to the stressors involved with overscheduling,” says Rebecca Kieffer, a child and family therapist. Giving kids time to breathe and not trying to cram in as much as possible each day is a good start.

9. Quashed imagination. In an overly scheduled environment, a child doesn't learn to entertain himself. His life is managed and regulated by adult supervision, adult rules, and adult-instigated entertainment. “Children then grow more and more reliant on adults to direct their play, cue them in on how to handle social interactions and conflict, and the notion of spontaneous, imaginative, creative and unstructured time is lost,” says Wall.

10. Don’t learn to manage frustration. “Free play provides several benefits including having a child understand how to manage frustration tolerance. The child who is bored and unstimulated needs to learn to tolerate that feeling on his own and identify a solution. Frustration tolerance is a learned social skill,” says Wall. If a child is always scheduled and there’s no downtime for free play, he won’t learn how to deal with frustration and ultimately how to overcome.

11. Not enough time for schoolwork. As schools get more competitive, kids are getting a lot more homework than they used to. Fitting in time to do it can be a challenge. “Too many activities creates less time for children to complete their homework and can even cause less sleep at night because they have to stay up late to finish it,” says Stephenson. Remember, extracurricular activities are meant as enrichment, not a required part of a child’s daily routine.

Is your child overscheduled?

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on twitter @JudyKoutsky .

Image ©iStock.com/amysuem

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