Q&A: Drowning in extra-curricular school activities

Question:

We’re only two months into the school year and already we’re drowning in extra-curricular activities. How much is too much? Can you suggest any practical guidelines?

Answer: We understand and share your concern.  That’s because children need lots of time, space, and leisure to develop their creativity and imagination. Stress from excessive organized activity can be a deadly enemy of a happy and healthy childhood. While every family is different, we’d suggest that in general, primary- and secondary school-age children shouldn’t take on more than one extra-curricular activity per school term.

The definition of an “extra-curricular activity” isn’t set in stone. In evaluating each commitment, it might be helpful to ask some basic questions about the time involved. How many evenings per week is your child spending away from home? If the number is too high, you might consider making some cuts.

If this seems like an impossible proposition, we’d challenge you to ask yourself some hard questions about the motives behind the busyness. Is it really about your child and his best interests? Or is the push to achieve driven by issues of your own? We’re all susceptible to negative motives such as parental pride, insecurity, or desires to compensate for our own unrealized achievements. But if allowed to run rampant, they can end up seriously damaging your child’s self-image and the dynamics of your family interactions.

On the positive side, we’d encourage you to strive for the correct balance for your family. A certain amount of “stretching” can be a good thing, but you must always consider each individual member’s unique needs and capabilities. There are some tell-tale signs that will let you know if your children are being pushed beyond their limits — depression, for example, or irritability, emotional withdrawal, and physical symptoms such as stomach pain. If you see any of these red flags, don’t delay in making the needed adjustments.

© 2018 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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