Conventional wisdom holds that today’s kids are overwhelmed by a hectic extracurricular routine composed of club sports, dance teams, and tutoring - and that all this “enrichment” is causing undue stress and anxiety. However, Vi-Anne Brown, Director of Counseling Services at Fay School, cautions against automatically accepting the maxim that being busy is bad.
“There are a lot of positives to keeping kids busy,” says Vi-Anne. “For example, we know that being busy is one of the best ways to decrease anxiety and worry.” She also notes that there is no one-size-fits-all rule for how much activity is too much for a child. Even in the same family, one sibling may thrive on a busy schedule, while another requires more downtime. At Fay, athletics, music lessons, and club opportunities are part of the school routine, so students can pursue their interests while having evenings free for sit-down meals and homework time. “What we are striving for is balance,” says Vi-Anne.
So, how can a parent tell the difference between a busy child and one that is verging on burnout? Vi-Anne shares four warning signs to determine whether a child needs to pare back their schedule.
Difficulty Sleeping - Stress and anxiety commonly manifest in a child’s sleep quality, and Vi-Anne suggests that you look for changes in your child’s baseline sleep behaviors. “If your child never had trouble falling asleep, but now it’s taking them an hour or an hour and a half, that’s something to pay attention to,” she says. Also, if nightmares and bad dreams suddenly become a recurring issue, it could signify that your child is carrying a lot of stress.
Drop in School Performance - When kids are so busy that they don’t have time to complete homework or prepare for assessments, you may also see a drop in grades. Again, Vi-Anne suggests comparing your child’s academic performance to their usual baseline. Have their grades dropped significantly, or are they suddenly missing assignments when that was never a problem?
Excessive Complaining or Moodiness - Most parents are used to the occasional request for a night off from dance class or to skip a music lesson. However, when complaints become persistent, that could indicate a more significant problem. If your child seems to no longer enjoy an activity they used to love, it could be a sign that the schedule is stressing them out.
No Time for Family Time
- Look back on the last week. Did your family sit down for a meal together? Did you have conversations with your children beyond homework and logistics? If the activities schedule makes it impossible for you to connect as a family, it may be time to reevaluate the overall commitment load.