the Pressure to Over-schedule: 10 Tips to Take Back Your Family
Susan Newman, Ph.D., Author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say
It-and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever
early morning to late evening most families buzz with non-stop activity
that shifts into overdrive during the school year. Once school gets
underway-and before-extra curricular sign up sheets abound, and
the impulse to engage your children in multiple endeavors becomes
hard to resist.
want to do what their friends do and parents worry that someone
else's child may be getting an edge by engaging in a particular
activity. Parenting has become its own competitive sport, with laudatory
bumper stickers, test scores and college decisions as trophies.
Kids soon learn that they are valued for what they do, instead of
the kind of people they are. Resist the temptation to encourage
multiple activities because you think your child will benefit from
a crammed schedule, or because neighbors and friends brag about
their own or their children's respective craziness.
the increasingly competitive college application process you and/or
your child may wrongly assume that more in the way of activities
is better. A packed resume is not an advantage in the college admissions
game. Colleges often limit the amount of space designated for extracurricular
activities, and many college admissions counselors are advising
prospective students to devote themselves fully to pursuits they
you say "yes" to over-scheduling, you also say "no"
to your family. Overburdened families are more prone to arguing
than their less-frenetic counterparts and are less likely to spend
time together. Twenty years ago parents worked about nine fewer
hours per week than those raising their families today and have
more options vying for their and their children's available time.
some 41 million children participating in organized competitive
sports, between practices, travel and games, schoolwork and homework,
and other commitments such as lessons in music or the arts, only
moments remain for hanging out with family. And, those occasions
are often spent with parents and children electronically and individually
there are many pluses to enjoyable sports and assorted lessons,
piling on commitments has an opposite, even negative effect on family
connections and on children's health. In an analysis of five decades'
worth of research, Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San
Diego State University, found that today's children & college
age students are overburdened to a degree once seen in child psychiatric
patients in the 1950's. According to a survey by Liberty Mutual
and Students Against Destructive Decisions, 43 percent of 13 to
14 year olds feel stressed every single day; between the ages of
15 to 17, this number grows to 59 percent. And, sleeplessness--usually
blamed on late-night video game playing and online chatting--is
more likely to be caused by stress. A Sleep in America poll reports
that as many as two-thirds of children experience one or more sleep
problems at least a few nights a week.
pointers to stop the frenzy:
activity participation is voluntary, and thus completely in your
(and your child's) control. Here are a few tips to counter the pressure
and fight the urge to over-schedule your children:
Embrace unstructured play time because it helps children develop
creatively and learn how to fill time on their own.
Fit in as many family dinners as possible especially during the
school year. It's one of the rare times you are most likely to discover
problems your child might be having at school or with friends.
Learn to say NO when your child begs and whines to add another activity
to his already crowded schedule.
Examine the request together. Just like saying "no" to
commitment excess, good decision-making is a learned skill. Before
your child signs up yet again, help her to figure out how many meetings
or practices there will be per month, if there will be dues, competitions,
Consider your family size and ages of your other children. Is dragging
your baby or toddler along doable without adding to your own stress
Be a good stress example. Children learn how to manage stress by
watching their parents. If you find yourself reeling with stress,
screaming at life's frustrations instead of finding a resolution,
you can't expect your children to understand the proper way to react
when they are overloaded and exhausted.
Accept the fact that children get over disappointment far faster
than adults. It's safe to presume that your child will not be on
a therapist's couch 20 years from now blaming you for the lessons
you denied or the team you didn't let her join. She'll find something
far more significant.
Being less overwhelmed reduces the chances that you will lose your
temper with your children making both you and them miserable.
Forget keeping up with the Jones's.
Reserve time to build family ties and touching points that become
important memories and critical touching points in later years.
For more on how to say NO to your children, friends, family and
at work to reduce overload, see: www.thebookofno.com
Newman, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author of 13 parenting
and relationship books including: The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say
It-and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever (McGraw-Hill)),
Parenting an Only Child, The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your
One and Only (Broadway/Doubleday), and Little Things Long Remembered:
Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day (Random House/Crown),
Little Things Mean A Lot: Creating Happy Memories with Your Grandchildren
(Random House/Crown), among others. Visit: www.susannewmanphd.com