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Health Tips for Parents

2005 Issues

Is your child too busy?

Monday – soccer, Tuesday – piano lesson, Wednesday –Spanish tutor… Sound familiar? Between school and extracurricular activities, today’s child often leads a busier life than a corporate CEO. Having too much on their plate can make children irritable and stressed. So how can parents gauge whether their child is overscheduled?

One way, according to Rachelle Tyler, MD, developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, is to honestly answer two fundamental questions:
• How is my child managing a daily schedule of school and activities?
• How much does my child want to participate in any given activity? Each child responds differently to a long day of structured activities; some thrive, others feel overwhelmed.

Managing time
“All children should pursue an activity that interests them,” Dr. Tyler notes. Hobbies allow children to express themselves and help them grow emotionally and intellectually. Children who participate in sports not only grow as an athlete, but also gain valuable lessons in sportsmanship and teamwork. However, Dr. Tyler cautions that while some children are able to complete homework and have time left over for other activities, other children may benefit from blocks of time to help complete and understand school assignments.

Observe carefully how challenging schoolwork is for your child and how he or she manages time after school. “Children who need more time with their homework should not have every afternoon scheduled and should be allowed to have a few days free,” she explains.

Who’s in charge?
According to Dr. Tyler, well-intentioned parents often sign their children up for too many activities. “Parents sometimes feel pressure to include their children in a variety of activities, believing that it will give them a competitive edge against their peers, whether in sports or school,” she observes. “Parents may feel that they don’t want their child left out of activities that other children enjoy or they may push their children to keep up with the other parents who are also enrolling children in a particular sport or class.”

Ask your children if they enjoy a particular activity and listen carefully to the answer. “Children may agree to an activity if they feel pressure to please parents who may want it more than they do,” Dr. Tyler notes. “Honestly assess whether you are separating your own needs from your child’s.”

Be aware of warning signs that your child is overscheduled. Overly busy children will often appear tired, anxious or depressed. They can fall behind in schoolwork, miss meals or lose sleep. A healthy family life also suffers when everyone is running in different directions.

Create a healthy balance
Before signing up for an activity, make sure your child understands the time commitment for each undertaking. For example, soccer may involve practices twice a week right before dinnertime plus a weekend game. Will parents have the time to drive back and forth? Will a child’s homework suffer? School should always be a priority, explains Dr. Tyler, so if grades start suffering, it might be time to drop an activity.

Finally, Dr. Tyler stresses the importance of down time. “Children need unstructured time, which is when they are able to express themselves creatively and truly discover who they are,” she says. “Children also need to enjoy leisure time with their families, including a meal together, a game of basketball, or a simple walk. Show your children that you are interested in their well-being; that’s exactly what they need and want the most.”

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