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Summer Schedules and Stress: How many Activities are too many?

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Summer Schedules and Stress: How many Activities are too many?

Schedules are out the window, sleep is less consistent and homework is a thing of the past. If it isn’t already, school will soon be out for the summer months. That means extra music lessons, lengthy sports camps, traveling sports and trips to the mall or community pools. However, before the fun in the sun gets too hectic, UnityPoint Health pediatric psychologist Martha Early, Ph. D. urges us to take a step back to make sure not to overdo it with activities.

How many is too many?

There is really no perfect amount of activities for kids. Dr. Early said it’s a good idea to have at least one or two activities, even if it’s just a class that meets once a week or a trip to the library. She said it’s best not to stack activities from morning all the way until the evening.

“Overscheduling can put a strain on the child and the family,” Dr. Early said. “There isn’t enough time to check in with each other and actually discuss the experiences they are having. Children also learn to expect that every moment of their lives will be programmed; they don’t learn the skills to manage their own time.”

Hearing “I’m Bored” is ok!

It is important to schedule a little down time in your children’s days over the summer months. While you might not want to hear them say, “I’m bored,” overcoming boredom can actually be a good thing for kids’ imaginations.

“Kids need to learn how to be ‘bored.’ Without direction they have to get creative, problem-solve and use their imaginations. When children decide on their own to do an activity - whether it is drawing a picture, playing outside, or inventing a new game - they get more satisfaction than when that activity is chosen for them. Learning self-direction is an important skill kids will need as they grow up and have to manage their own schedules and complete complex tasks,” Dr. Early said.

It’s a good idea to have a range of age-appropriate activities kids can rely on when there isn’t going to be a structured activity for a while. Dr. Early suggested making a list of 10 easy, free, enjoyable activities that you can remind your child to look at when they ask you, “What can I do?” If your child keeps bugging you for an activity, stay strong.

“Offer a couple ideas, but make it clear it is their responsibility to find an activity. Kids who are used to adults directing them will find it more difficult at first. The hardest part is getting started,” Dr. Early said.

How to tell if Kids are overscheduled

Summer can mean there is a plethora of fun activities to pick from, but Dr. Early also warned against overscheduling your kids. She said you can tell if they’ve got too much going on, simply by considering a few questions.

  • Are they getting tired or irritable more quickly than usual?
  • Do they seem stressed or nervous?
  • Are they waking up feeling rested?
  • Are they having at least some down time each day?
  • Are you feeling stressed trying to get them to all these activities?

Dr. Early said down time doesn’t mean plopping in front of the TV. In fact, kids often do best with limited screen time - an hour or less per day. Using computers or TVs sparingly can be super helpful for parents and even educational for kids. But, it shouldn’t always be the go-to.

Not all Children are the same

While having some down time for children is significant, it’s also important to remember that kids who have a diagnosed attention, behavior or mood disorder will likely need more structure every day. If you are concerned about these problems for your child, talk to your child’s doctor.

“Overall, you know your kids best. Try not to compare your kids’ schedules to your neighbors or Facebook friends. A schedule that works for one child or family doesn’t necessarily work for another. And, if your kids miss out on an activity you think they would have enjoyed, there’s always next summer,” Dr. Early said.

If you have questions or concerns about your kids’ summer schedules, reach out to your UnityPoint Health pediatrician or primary care provider.