It’s easy to feel like you need to jam pack your child’s schedule with therapies and activities to help “catch them up”. But at what point does it become counter-productive?
Our friends at Source Kids recently published an insightful story about the effects of overscheduling your child by James Pipe. The story includes some excellent tips from educational and developmental psychologist, Dr Kimberley O’Brien.
We’re sharing an edited version below to help you identify when it’s important to give your child a break.
Showing signs of stress.
While older children can usually recognise when they are feeling stressed and tell you directly, younger children often don’t have the same self-awareness. Look out for new behaviours such as picking their skin or nail-biting.
“Negative self-talk is another important stress indicator, such as when a child says things like, ‘I’m hopeless’ after participating in an activity. Look out for irritability, frustration and forgetfulness, such as forgetting their sports uniform,” Dr O’Brien says.
When children are overburdened, they can feel tired or lethargic. Kids need more sleep than adults, so try to ensure they are getting to bed early and make sure they have a meal or snack before activities to help bolster those energy levels.
If your child still seems exhausted despite all these efforts, Dr O’Brien says it might be time to cut back on activities.
“Some high-energy children might seem like they need to do a tonne of activities to burn off that energy but it can have the opposite effect and leave them wired, which can affect their sleep patterns.”
Withdrawing from parents.
If you start to notice your relationship with your child is suffering because of their busy schedule, it could be time to make some adjustments.
“If you find yourself arguing with your child or they’ve become distant and withdrawn from you, it could be a sign they’re overscheduled,” explains Dr O’Brien.
Your child starts pushing boundaries.
A child who does not want to be at a therapy session or soccer practice can really push the boundaries – such as sitting down on the soccer field or refusing to do any of the tasks asked by the therapist.
Try to talk to them and understand what may be behind their behaviour. Could it be burnout? Or perhaps even sensory overload? Are there too many instructions being given at once? A switched-on therapist can also help pinpoint the cause.
Crying before certain activities.
It is not uncommon for kids to have some teary moments before specific activities and sometimes even the pressure of therapy can be stressful and emotional. But if it’s happening often, it’s important to act.
“When kids are really emotional, it’s important to not put them in a social context because it can be humiliating and undermine their friendships,” Dr Kimberley says. “Instead, take a breather, go for a walk and teach them how to calm down and regroup… let them have that session off and tell them that you’re going to figure it out together.”
Often overburdened kids begin to question their ability to learn new skills and will start withdrawing from certain activities – especially those in which they are not excelling.
Discuss with your child what they do and don’t like about therapy sessions. It’s also a chance to talk about how everyone has to practice and be flexible to learn new skills.
Dr Kimberley O’Brien is co-founder of the Quirky Kid Clinic and an expert in child development and mental health.