Feature: Overscheduling Kids (How Much Is Too Much?)

by Nicola Enright-Morin

Soccer, hockey, piano, gymnastics, and extra tutoring. Come September, kids’ schedules will fill up faster than a corporate CEO’s calendar.

Nowadays there are so many activities for kids to choose from, and we want them to try them all! So we sign them up for everything that turns their crank – until we end up feeling like an Uber driver, stuck in a vehicle that smells like a food truck, with kids on the verge of a mammoth meltdown because they are beyond frazzled.

So, what’s the solution? Scheduling kids’ activities is a minefield, and it doesn’t help that parenting experts can’t seem to agree if today’s kids are over or under scheduled.

If they can’t decide, how is the average parent supposed to figure it out?

How can you tell if your child has too much on their plate?

This is a difficult one to give a hard and fast rule for, because no two kids are alike. While several activities a week might seem like overload for some children, for others it’s not enough. The good news is, no one knows your child better than you do. Take your cues from them.

If they’re grumpy when it’s time for their favourite activity, or you have no room for downtime or spontaneous fun, or if school’s suffering and regular family meals are a distant memory, then it might be time to make some cuts.

All too often kids get signed up for a myriad of activities because we feel peer pressure from other parents; panicked that if we don’t sign up for the stuff all the other kids are doing, ours will miss out.

We worry that if we don’t sign our kids up at an early age – for physical activities especially, they’ll miss the window of opportunity to be the next Gretzky or dance sensation, all because we dropped the ball back when they were three.

It’s time to let that peer pressure from other parents and coaches go.  Studies show that kids who are pressured less at a younger age are way more likely to enjoy themselves, and in turn excel later and longer in their chosen activity, compared to kids drilled to compete from early on.

It’s also important to remember that kids develop at different rates. No two are alike and no one shines at everything. It’s way better to play to your kid’s strengths and pick one or two things they enjoy. Then they are way more likely to stick with it – and that’s important, because studies show that by the time overscheduled kids hit their teens, they are more likely to rebel and drop everything, because they’ve had enough.

What if you sign them up and it turns out they don’t like an activity? So be it. Try something else. If you’re worried about wasting money, a good way to get around that is to try activities at a local community centre. They often have classes that last six to ten weeks, and for a reasonable price –  perfect for your kids to sample something new without making a year-long commitment and without you feeling the added pressure of a wasted financial commitment.

Another important factor to ask yourself is who are the activities really for? Often kids get over scheduled because we want to give our children the chances we never had. But just because you always wanted to play the violin, doesn’t mean your kid wants to. Get their input. Children need to feel like they have a say and what floats their boat might be way off from what you had in mind.

Don’t be scared that trimming the timetable means they’ll start whining, “I’m bored”– that’s OK – just don’t lob a screen at them to get them to pipe down. It’s OK for kids to be bored – heck, it’s even good for them. Studies show that kids who have a chance to be bored learn how to think for themselves, figure out activity ideas on their own and stimulate their creativity far more than when every activity is designed and scheduled for them.

And when kids aren’t overscheduled, it leaves more time for spontaneity: a ride around the block on a bike, playing catch, skipping rope, playing with the neighbourhood kids – the stuff you really remember from childhood.

Overscheduling Kids

Here’s what some parents had to say about overscheduling kids:

“Observe your child and if they show talent and desire in an area, that’s the activity you pick. Our son chose music and he learned the same team building skills as he would of playing team sports, only he had a lot more fun.” – Wong Wing-Sui, Vancouver

“I just said ‘No way! That’s enough. Riley is not playing hockey this summer.’ I went against the peer pressure from the coaches and other parents and gave him the freedom to take the summer to be a kid. Best decision I made.” – Tammy, Burnaby

“Don’t compare yourself to other families and don’t compare your kid to other people’s. Once I got that and we did what worked for us, life became way less stressful.” – Petra, Coquitlam

“Don’t let the schedule rule your life. Take the time to be with your kids – try and get outside and go for a walk together. You will connect so much more and be happier too.” – Emily, Maple Ridge

Have you checked out our latest issue? It’s jam-packed with great back-to-school stories, tips and tidbits like this one! Pick up a copy at a location near you, or read the full issue online here.