Is my Child Doing too Many Activities? How do I know?
Updated: Jul 21
By Christy | the Practicing Pro
“How can my kids practice everyday when they are super busy”?
I get asked this question all the time! It’s a difficult one to answer. I have spent years getting to know many students and their families and my experience has taught me that this question actually sounds like, “Are my children doing too many activities to practice”?
Your children might be doing too many activities... But how can you know?
Do you feel like you are rushing here and there and don’t have any extra time? Do you wish things could be less busy with less stress, more free time and even some extra money? The Practice Pro is here to help! This is my guide on how to set goals with your child and make the best schedule for 2021/2022!
To determine if your child is over scheduled we begin by taking stock of their extra curricular activities. By “extra curricular”, I mean activities outside and above the demands of their “regular” mandatory school day requirements. Now let’s also make no mistake “extra curricular” also includes the extra activities that they can sign up for IN SCHOOL, such as sports, drama, orchestra, student leadership, etc.
Let’s Look at An Example
Let's say you have young children enrolled in 5 different activities, one activity every day, (which is a very popular parenting style, here where I live in Halifax). Exposing children to many different skills and activities while they are young provides them with so many opportunities.
After School Schedule
Monday 5:30PM swimming
Tuesday 4:30PM skating
Wednesday 5:00PM gymnastics
Thursday 3:20PM art class
Friday 3:45PM piano lessons
All of these activities are carefully organized in their schedules right after school and they come home tired and ready for supper, some quiet time and bed. Great day!
Then the children start to get older and a year has passed, maybe two and they are now getting better at one, two or ALL of these daily activities in their schedule.
The skating teacher says, “They have real promise as a skater you know. They're moving up to “intermediate level” now and they need to come twice a week moving forward; once won’t be enough anymore”. Perhaps you have a similar conversation with their swim coach.
Now you have skating on Monday and Wednesday and swimming now on Tuesday and Thursday since they can only be on their level swim team with a minimum of twice a week practices. Friday is still music lessons, but art now has been moved to Fridays! This means the child goes from school to a now longer piano lesson and art is an evening class now after super. So that luckily worked out! Luckily too gymnastics has an alternative class you could choose on Saturdays so good to go!
… That is until their best friend starts a Karate class and your child begs you to let them go too. You were also able to squeeze in on Tuesday later at night.
Now your lovely balanced schedule has quickly become this:
Monday 4:00PM skating
Tuesday 3:45PM swim team 6:30PM karate
Wednesday 4:00PM skating
Thursday 3:45PM swim team
Friday: 3:00PM longer piano 6:30PM art class
Saturday: 1:30PM gymnastics
They're doing 6 activities now, instead of five, and many of them now take longer. It’s workable, but over time the family begins to become strained. Strained time wise, stress wise and financially!
You know you have to cut out a few activities, but your child begs you to please not quit any of them! So what do you do? You get better at time management!
It takes determination to find ways to be more efficient with your time. Maybe you start eating snacks / meals in the car, driving with friends, and/or having two children in the same activities. Gramma has agreed to pay for the skating since she was a skater when she was young,...whatever you can do to be creative and make the schedule work right??!!! You don’t want your child to miss out on any kind of development!
But, What does this mean for their SKILLS and CONFIDENCE?
Each activity will continue to expand the time commitment needed as the difficulty of the skill increases to keep improving. If you continue with ALL of these commitments and don't cut out some activities to leave room for the others to develop, the result is that the children often can never advance past a beginner / intermediate level at best. They are often over busy, stressed, and feel pressure to “keep up” but just can’t. Their confidence starts taking hits at every activity and often they want to quit.
I'm going to draw a visual of this to more easily see the issue:
Each funnel represents a different activity and the time passing is the height of the funnel. The width of the funnel is the level of skill achieved. The width between the sidelines is the amount of time that you have in a given day.
Example # 1
This is a picture of a child doing 5 activities as in our example. They can improve with five activities to a certain level and then plateau and hold there with little growth. This is where I put the arrow. See how at the time / energy to spend on the activity is gone? You can’t make more time or energy, you can only spend it differently.
This is now a picture of the new second schedule where the skating and swimming has asked for more time but no activities have been taken out and karate was added.... So again you see that you can’t get more time and energy, you can only spread it out and use it differently. So more activities mean narrower funnels at the top.
Remember,You DON’T HAVE TO ALWAYS IMPROVE in an activity. It can be “for fun” or “for social” and this is also valid and important for some children and families. You can find activities where the whole group of students is in the same boat and they stay in this leisurely moving pace of improvement for years and years. This can serve you well.
HOWEVER, please observe your child carefully and make sure that they are not trying to “run in a pack” they can’t keep up to. This can lead to serious issues in later teen years (we will talk about that in next week's blog).
How do I recognize if this is happening to my child? How can I prepare ahead of time and put the brakes on this before it happens?
I see this in my music school all of the time. Every year, some students who have VERY packed schedules see their friends moving up to the next level class, but they stay in their class and make much slower progress. Of course this is to be expected! They do so many activities. Eventually, this can create in music schools, book classes, or orchestras situations where older students, who have taken lessons for years and years, are playing next to younger players who've only taken lessons for only a few years. It’s the old “jack of many trades and master of none” saying in action. Some students are doing so many activities that they are stretched and unable to dedicate the time and energy required to get to a higher level.
Here are three possible outcomes of over programing your child:
They start feeling unsuccessful, which causes lower self esteem. They start saying they don’t like it or they are not good at it and they want to quit. In fact it's not that they don't like it or they're not good at it, or that they don't even not want to be there! It's just that they are progressing very slowly. They are not spending the time and energy required on the activity to keep with it and feel good about themselves.
Here is an example: A child is taking singing lessons and practice at tops once a week outside of their lesson and usually only the week or two before a concert more than that. They are just so busy and don't have the time. They are nervous to perform, worried about forgetting words, they miss a few notes and they know they are a “terrible singer” especially when they hear others in the concert easily and effortlessly perform harder songs perfectly. They shouldn't have thought they could sing in the first place!
They are falling behind. They are seeing other peers who are moving along faster. It’s hard to then “reignite” their original interest and passion that they once had in this activity. They find the students around them getting younger each year.
Here is an example: A child plays violin and practices 1-2 times a week only as they are so busy that’s all they can practice. By the time they get to practice at that, its late at night and they are tired. Progress is slow. They are in the beginner orchestra and each year the children around them get younger and younger. Many of the players with them in their first year are in the intermediate orchestra now. Their parent reminds them that its not a competition with other players and that the other kids don't do as many things as they do so of course they will be at a higher level. The child wants to quit. They don't want to play with little kids and keep playing the same and similar music year after year.
They want to constantly change activities. Something starts getting too hard for them for the time and energy that is being spent on it. So it's not so much that other children are moving past them that bothers them, BUT it's requiring too much work or time for them to feel good about themselves at the slow pace they are moving, developing their skills. It's easier to start a new activity and always be the “fast moving beginner” in something similar that they can translate some of their skills over to that they have.
Here is an example: A child has been swimming for two years and feeling that it's too hard when only swimming once a week when the good swimmers there go 5 days a week to practice.They start to not feel good about themselves while they are there and the coach tells them the same three corrections week after week after week...so they feel nagged, don’t see an improvement and just don’t want to do it anymore. Instead, they ask to change to basketball. They do basketball for a couple years once a week, and then that starts feeling hard, they don't do that anymore so now they switch to volleyball.
See the pattern in #3?
Watch for this one!
Remember that often this pattern starts out because they are doing too many activities. They don't have the base to be able to improve and get better to the point where they feel good about themselves. They never can get to an intermediate or advanced level in anything because then they switch…
If you have young children, watch for these three things.
Beware that you are not “paying money” to have your child not feel good about themselves!!! You can prevent your child’s funnels from being SQUISHED. You can watch for it and take a funnel out before this happens. They can still try lots of new activities but watch for their funnels. Make sure they have one or two that have SPACE TO GROW.
Example #3If you have older children, take a really good look at what they're doing and make sure they're not doing too much, because it's really hard on their self confidence, and their self esteem. Let them do the one or two things they love the best and are the best at! Let them master them. Let those funnels expand and expand and make sure they have time and space for them to expand!
If your children are VERY young and you haven't jumped into multiple activities yet then teach them by example. Do you have something you focus on and develop skills in? Do you make a little space, even a few minutes a day, to develop something long term in your life? If not...start now :) You are a team with your children and you’ve got this!
INVITATION from Christy Hodder:
Need More Tips? We covered a lot, and it can be difficult to identify if a child’s confidence and abilities are suffering because they are doing too many activities. Stay tuned for next week’s blog talking about dog sleds and activities that are causing children and especially teens stress. See you next time!
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