08/21/2019 11:18 EDT

How To Avoid Overscheduling Yourself And Your Kid This School Year

Kids really, really need down time.

If you’re a parent, you don’t need to be told that this time of year is hectic. Not only are kids headed back to school — cue all the new clothes and school supplies they need — but many extra-curriculars are back, too.

Not to mention homework, playdates, piano lessons, hockey practice, now the weather’s getting colder so now we need new winter clothes, we have to get the youngest started on those skiing lessons, and why is everyone already talking about Christmas?

Families are busier than ever, with the increase in parents working outside the home and in kids getting involved with more and more activities outside of school. And while this signals social progress and well-rounded kids, it also runs the risk of tiring everyone out.

Kids “never have the chance to just be,” Vancouver-based family counsellor Johanna Simmons previously told CBC News. “In that free time, free play, children would play out their anxiety but now they’ve got no outlet for it.”

That has major repercussions, she said. “There has been a steep incline in the number of children with anxiety because children are scheduled, they are structured.”

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Over-scheduled kids don't have an outlet for their anxiety, says a family counsellor.

Michael Thompson, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Pressured Child, told The New York Times that the problem isn’t kids — it’s their parents. Parents who are successful in their careers and who try to exert control over their own lives will likely try to do the same to their children, he said. This means they’ll make decisions about their children’s activities not based on their kids’ wellbeing (“Timmy will really enjoy learning another language!”) but based on their own anxiety (“Timmy’s peers might learn another language. What if he falls behind?”)

And parents, too, can feel the burden of the stressful schedule. When you have kids, their schedule becomes your schedule — but you also have your own life, your own work of one kind or another, your own friends, your own stressors. 

That said, here are some ways you can avoid over-scheduling both yourself and your child this school year.

Focus in

What’s the activity that your child really, really loves? Focusing in on that one thing might be more productive than asking them to excel at eight different things.

Finding something a kid is passionate about might take a while, and it might involve a lot of trial and error, notes Policy Genius. But once they find something that really works, it will be easier for them and for you — and you’ll know they’re spending time on something that really fulfills them.

Think of the basics

How much do these activities cost? Where do they take place, and how will your kid get there and back? Will it take time away from their homework, or their time with their friends, or with you? These are all things you have to consider — and some of them might help knock a few activities off your list.

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Will your kid still have time to do their homework if they do a lot of activities? It's something to consider.

Protect family time

A good gauge to make sure everyone’s schedule is in a reasonable place is to be sure you still have time as a family. There are lots of different ways that different families feel connected, but figure out what works for you, and make it an unbreakable priority.

Check for warning signs — especially sleep

Sleep is an ultra-important part of growth, and Health Canada recommends that kids get a lot of it. If your child’s schedule prevents them from getting regular and restful sleep, that’s a major red flag.

“Kids know what they can handle,” June Rizza, a coach and mother of two told USA Today.  “With my own kids, I take my cues from them, whether it’s physical cues like a sleeping issue, or if we’re at a point where something else is lacking or is being detrimental, then we stop. 

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When it comes to sleep, take cues from your kids.

Don’t forget to include play time and “boredom time” 

These might not sound vital, but they actually are! OK, so maybe playing outside doesn’t help your kid on their way to becoming fluent in Mandarin or a piano prodigy. But it will help them get physical activity and find healthy ways to channel stress —things it can be easy to forget kids need.

And believe it or not, there are actually benefits to boredom. Having nothing to do can stimulate a kid’s creativity and let them discover their own talents. “It’s through boredom that children learn how to manage their time and decide what to do during their free time,” according to the YMCA.

Ditch the competition mentality

So the neighbour’s kid is an amazing swimmer, and your friend’s daughter is reading Dostoyevsky at age 12. Who cares! Comparing your child to other kids isn’t good for you or for them. Stop thinking about how your kid is going to compete in the workforce one day, and focus on what’s actually bringing them joy and fulfillment.

Let them take their own time

If your kid can’t handle every activity under the sun, that doesn’t mean that they — or you! — have done anything wrong. It takes everyone a while to figure out what they want and what they’re good at. They’ll get there in their own time.