How to tell if your kids have too many activities

How many activities should kids do after school? It's a question that all parents grapple with, and most of us feel guilty about.

The answer to this question isn't so much about a number, but a value. An approach to life that gives you a Goldilocks sort of existence. Not too much, not too little, but just right.

That value is balance.

It doesn't matter if your child does one thing a week or six. It's about balance. Balance for them and balance for your whole family.

According to the dictionary, balance means being in a state of equilibrium, or what wordsmiths call "equipoise". Balance is about having mental steadiness or emotional stability.

Steadiness, stability, and equilibrium... all these words give a sense that a balanced life is not overwhelming or exhausting.

Parenting balance in a nutshell

The parenting utopia of balance looks like this:

  1. Let kids be different. Having one rule will lead to unhappiness and a loss of equilibrium. Some kids thrive on stimulation and social interaction. Others are introverts and need alone time to recharge.
  2. Make time for family activities. Whether it's watching the footy together, having a games night or going to church. Spending time as a family draws you closer together. It helps you reconnect to the essence of what your family values are.
  3. Mix formal with informal activities. Timetabling your kids affects their healthy development. But that doesn't mean they have to spend huge chunks of their week bored. Make time to wander down to the creek, visit the local park, throw a ball or jump on the trampoline. These are just as important as slotting in a creative class or team sport.
  4. Childhood is a great time to try things. As kids move through their high school years, their tastes and interest narrow. Their school load will force them to make choices. Tweens are in the perfect age group to try out activities. Let them experiment with creative classes, sports, hobbies, volunteering and youth groups.
  5. Passion is essential. By the time your kids are teens, if they're not loving it, then you shouldn't either. If kids are passionate about something, they will find the drive to fit it in and keep on top of their school work. Passion creates perseverance and endurance.
  6. Everyone needs to rest. No matter how talented your kids are or how much energy they have, everyone needs time to chill out, get bored and fight with their siblings.
  7. Attitude is everything. One of the key signs that a child isn't coping is when their attitude takes a dive. Like most things with kids, you can ignore a snarky attitude for one day. But if it lingers for a couple of weeks you need to take a closer look and make sure they aren't overcommitted.
  8. Learning to prioritise sets tweens up for life. As the demands of school increase, young people who do too many activities can find their marks slip. Adolescence is a time when young people start setting their long-term goals. This will need them to give up good things to focus on the greater ones.

Is your family life in balance? Or perhaps it feels overwhelming and exhausting. Rather than put a number limit on what your kids do, stick to that "equipoise" value. Kids don't need to do lots of things to feel valued and find their talents. But doing a few things around their school work can create a richer life for them, and your whole family.

What could you do today to make your family life more balanced?

Rachel Doherty

Rachel Doherty is the founder of Tweens2teen. She’s a social worker, teacher and the mother of 3 teenagers. In her spare time she trains youth workers and does a lot of washing and cooking. You can read more of her work on her website – tweens2teen.com

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