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Are you overscheduling your child?

In our bid to be ‘good’ parents we may be overscheduling our kids at the expense of their mental health and our family life. Researcher, writer, and mum of two girls, KASEY EDWARDS explains why less can be more when it comes to extra-curriculars. By Sonia Speedy

The parent taxi driver scenario can sneak up on you all too easily. The kids want to do dancing, then it’s gymnastics and you want them to learn an instrument. Before you know it, you’re giving the kids dinner in the car between acro and maths tutoring.

According to Kasey Edwards, co-author with husband Dr Christopher Scanlon of Raising Girls Who Like Themselves In a World That Tells Them They’re Flawed and more recently, Bringing Up Boys Who Like Themselves, overscheduling our kids leaves them little time to play, something they need to decompress after a busy school day. They can also end up exhausted and potentially too tired to learn at school or anywhere else.

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What’s more, we’re exhausting ourselves and our wallets in the process, as many activities don’t come cheap.

“They’re (activity providers) so good at prising open our wallets with parental guilt,” Kasey says. She believes that by overscheduling our kids, we effectively deny them the human right to play and of a childhood.

SLEEP COMES FIRST

There is no single extra-curricular activity that provides more benefit to our children than getting enough sleep and playing, Kasey says.

If your child is having trouble with emotional regulation, or friendship, is reluctant to attend school, or even suffering from mental health difficulties, then the first place to look (on the physical side) is whether they’re getting enough sleep, she says. 

Once you’ve ensured your child is getting enough sleep and also has time each day for play, then extra-curricular activities can fit in around these two key elements.

PLAY – A SERIOUS MATTER

Play matters.

“It’s like resetting a computer when it’s overloaded. It’s critical for mental health,” Kasey says.

Play means unstructured time that has no learning outcome attached and involves no intervention from the parent.

“If every part of (our children’s) lives is measured, it creates the conditions for anxiety and depression,” Kasey says.

She suggests ensuring your kids have at least half an hour a day for play, which means being able to do whatever they want to, for no other reason than they enjoy it. This play can include play dates with friends, or some time on games like Roblox and Minecraft that involve elements of creativity and social activity (with proper controls in place, of course) if that’s what they enjoy.

KASEY’S EXPERIENCE

Kasey says their family fell into the overscheduling trap and found themselves arguing, tired, and with no one benefiting. Now their daughters go to swimming lessons and one other activity each. She says it’s changed the overall tone of their family, and they spend more time connecting.

Every family is different, so how you structure your life will be unique to you – but it needs to be built around that key concept of ensuring your child gets enough sleep and play. As the parent, you’ll be less strung out too, and that’s good for everyone.

“They’ve got their whole life to learn to play the piano, but they’ve only got a few short years to be children,” Kasey says.

“It’s understanding that it’s a real privilege to take your kid to the park or have a play date instead.”

Read about Raising Girls Who Like Themselves >>

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