Article at a Glance

  • There is no “right” level of activity. It depends largely on your child and your family.
  • Children who are overscheduled will show symptoms like depression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and over tiredness.
  • Don’t let external pressures influence how much your child is involved in. Focus on what is right for your child.

Ask a room full of parents whether or not their children are overscheduled and you are likely to get a wide variety of very passionate answers. In fact, it is hard to think of a more loaded question.

On one hand extracurricular activities are a great way to build social skills, foster self-esteem, and get exercise. On the other hand doing too much can leave kids feeling exhausted, inadequate, and overwhelmed. Many a parent has stayed up late at night wondering if they are doing too little or too much for their children.

But it is important to remember that the answer to this question depends entirely on your family and each individual in your family. What might be too much for one family might be just right for another.

As we approach the New Year, this may be a good time to look at your family’s time commitments and make some decisions. There is no one right answer, but here are some questions that can help point you in the right direction.

Why is my child involved in this activity?
Being busy for the sake of being busy is a bad idea. Sometimes parents sign up their kids for a lot because they want them to be high achievers or because they don’t want to feel guilty about not doing enough. Maybe they regret missing out on some opportunity as a child.

While both of these are worthy goals, they can get misapplied. Too many activities may lead to an early burn out. Or maybe your child’s goals and preferences are not the same as yours.

It is impossible to expose your child to every opportunity to excel. Instead look at the wants and needs of your child. Ask yourself what the activity is teaching your child and how it is impacting the rest of your child’s life. Pushing your children to do too many activities can often make them feel like they are never doing enough or that they aren’t living up to your expectations.

If you find yourself too invested in whether or not your child is succeeding, then it is time to step back a little. If you are having a hard time telling whether or not you are pushing too hard, ask somebody you trust.

Sometimes it is the child and not the parent who is pushing for more activities in an already busy schedule. In this case, find out if it is because they are really interested in the activity. They might just be worried about being left out or not having enough on their college application. Help them analyze if this activity will actually be helpful or just add additional stress.

How can I tell if my child is overscheduled?
Just like adults, kids will also start to show the signs of stress. Signs to look for include:

  • Complaining of stomachaches and headaches
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Being overtired
  • Inability to sleep
  • A drop in grades
  • Irritability, moodiness or grumpiness
  • Inability to focus
  • Restlessness or an inability to calm down or relax
  • Overly emotional
  • No longer enjoys activities that used to be favorites
  • Acts upset or sad about having to go to activities

Another sign is that your child doesn’t know what to do with free time. When there is nothing planned, does your child turn to you for guidance or is your child able to engage in impromptu play?

Is my child’s life well rounded?
While extracurricular activities are good, children also need time to do nothing. We learn important things about others and ourselves when we give ourselves time to just think and relax. If you never see your child doing nothing, there is a good chance your child is too busy. Children also need time with friends and to engage in unstructured play.

Is my child getting enough sleep?
If activities are getting in the way of sleep, then it is time to cut them. Children should not have to stay up late to get everything done or wake up really early to finish up homework. On average preschoolers and school-aged children need 10 to 12 hours a night. Teens need 8.5 to 9.5 hours a night.

Do we spend time together as a family?
Do you spend more time with your kids in the car than you do anywhere else? Do you and your spouse hardly ever get to see each other? If the answer is yes, then you are too busy.

It is especially important to eat a meal together as a family. Children who eat with their family not only get better nutrition, but are also less likely to engage in risky behavior like smoking, drinking, drugs, fighting, and early initiation of sexual activity. This time together should not be sacrificed for other activities.

Are you worn out?
If you are worn out, chances are that the little people in your back seat are too. Pushing yourselves too hard is more likely to do more harm than good.

Studies show that by the age of 13 three out of four children are no longer involved in the extracurricular activities they once loved. Most often it is those children who started these activities before the first grade. Starting an activity too early and with too much intensity can lead to burn out.

Clearing Your Schedule

If your child is overscheduled, it isn’t a problem you need to stress over. It is actually pretty easy to solve. Sit down with your child and talk about which activities are really necessary. Let your child decide which ones to cut. It might help to draw up a schedule and block out which times are needed for school, homework, chores, sleeping, and eating. If after you have cut some activities you still feel too busy, then cut some more.

Don’t let external pressures influence your decisions. Focus on what is right for your child. Remember that different temperaments may enjoy different levels of activity. What is right for one child isn’t necessarily right for another.

Most importantly, remember that unscheduled time is essential to your child’s development. It is when we build relationships, evaluate our lives, and foster our creativity.

For More Information:
Is Your Child Too Busy? (

Overscheduled kids, anxious parents (CNN)

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