Busy children are often the result of busy adults. Being busy is often considered a badge of honor in our modern day, and those values are often placed onto children as well. Well-meaning parents will also pack a child's schedule with activities in order to keep her out of the wrong peer group or away from excessive video game playing.
In reality, children grow by play and leisure as much as by school and structure. Taking bicycle rides, listening to music, and even playing video games allow children to disconnect briefly and press a mental restart button. This is not idleness but rest. The best approach is to keep the child engaged in good activities but not at the expense of leisure and family time.
Signs of Being Overwhelmed
Children who are too busy may present as tired, anxious, or depressed. They may mention physical issues like headaches or stomach-aches or remark that they miss meals or have trouble sleeping. Some children will see their grades drop due to fatigue and lack of time for homework.
These symptoms can threaten friendships and put a toll on family life, both of which will only add to the stress. Activities may become "have to" and not "want to" as the fatigue compromises enjoyment. If the child becomes irritable, apathetic, and stressed, it is time to objectively assess his schedule.
Does the child actually enjoy soccer or does he wish he could spend more time at his Taekwondo dojo? Since society is also very competitive in terms of college enrollment and other honors, some activities may be taken on due to this pressure. Eliminating one activity so another can be given more time, and enjoyed more, is a good first step in easing time burdens.
Does the child actually have time for friends and family? Activities are important as they can develop friendships, interests, and sportsmanship. However, building relationships outside the context of planned activities is also important. Unstructured play time is shown to help with time management later in life. Look at how much time is structured and if unstructured time is a rare occurrence, remove the least enjoyable activity from the schedule.
Finally, lacking time to study and keep up academically is perhaps the most severe misbalance in this equation. School plays a critical role in a child's future and needs to be carefully balanced with other activities. If other activities are infringing on a child's ability to function well academically, activities need to be reduced, again, starting with the least enjoyable activity.
Ambitious children may actually want to do everything and parents will do little to get in the way. However, parents must set ground rules. These rules give children a clear idea of what to expect and make it easier for parents to say No when appropriate.
Rules can be relatively simple: One sport per season or activities that only occupy two evenings a week. If the activity involves music, consider practice time. The child will need to manage time around performances, practices, and perhaps lessons. Help the child design a calendar and understand the time commitment and explain when she will finish homework or take unstructured time off.
The rules can also include a family night every week. One night a week, everyone must be home at the same time, have dinner together, and indulge in some low-pressure fun such as board games or movies.
Activities must be balanced with academic, social, and family needs. Children will have plenty of time in their adult life to be stressed and face multiple burdens. They do not need to face this now. Find meaningful activities but also allow time for them to just be children.