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Avoid Overscheduling Burnout with Your Child by Creating Opportunities for Downtime

By Christina Pay, Extension Assistant Professoroverwhelmed child

Intentions are good when parents sign up their children for dance, baseball, gymnastics, music lessons, and a host of other activities. Parents want their children to succeed in life and hope that participation in these activities will help them do that. Enriching a child’s life is a good thing, however, overscheduling can take a toll on you, your child and your family. Deb Lonzer, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and the Chair of the Department of Community Pediatrics for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, stated, “Kids whose time is overly organized don’t have time to be kids, and their family doesn’t have time to be a family. They typically don’t eat well, sleep well, or make friends properly” (Cleveland Clinic, 2018).

A poll conducted by Mental Health America asked youth ages 11-17 what was stressing them out.  61% of them replied that juggling priorities (i.e., school, sports, jobs, clubs, etc.) was causing them stress (Health Enews, 2017). Another poll showed that 78% of children between the ages of 9 and 13 wished that they had more free time (Health Enews, 2017). One report concluded that, “Parents of school-aged children should assess activity-related stress and the degree to which children perceive they are busy.” (Brown, et al., 2011) With this in mind, how can parents best help their children balance scheduled activities with down time?

Alvin Rosenfield, M.D., author of The Overscheduled Child, suggests that there is nothing wrong with enrichment activities for children if parents make sure they have enough downtime with no activities.   He continues that parents should “weigh the benefits of participation against the cost-time, energy, logistical effort, stress and expense-to-you, your child, and the rest of your family” (Rosenfield, 2001).  Dr. Lonzer counsels’ parents to discuss the activity options with their child and help them choose their top three activities. Once this decision is made don’t vary from it. If, down the road, your child wants to try a different activity, make sure to drop one of the original three. On the other hand, Dr. Rosenfield states that a set number of activities or hours of free time aren’t necessary. “Parents should listen to their instincts,” he said (Rosenfield, 2001).  The bottom line is to choose the method that you and your family can live with.  Finding a balance that works for your child is the key to help them avoid burnout. Below are additional suggestions from Dr. Lonzer that will help you provide children with downtime.  Giving these tips a try can help you find a healthy balance between overscheduling and downtime.

  1. Keep a written calendar. Dr. Lonzer suggests writing in “sleep time, down time, mealtime, and family time. The balance of fun organized activities with plenty of down time will help kids see that all of these things are important.”   
  2. Downtime does not mean screen time. Make sure all devices and electronics are powered down and put away. Downtime should allow children to use their own creativity and initiative in filling their down time.
  3. Schedule family time. Plan on scheduling 20 minutes, five times a week as family time. Then do whatever your family enjoys doing together, i.e., ride bikes, play a board game, read books out loud, etc. Go for a walk, again leaving any technology such as cellphones and earbuds, at home. Talk about what is happening now, ask questions, but leave talk of things they must do for school, or that you must do for work for other times. Help your child learn that to live in the moment is a good thing.
  4. Model a good work-life balance. Budget your time, pace yourself. Don’t procrastinate. Let your kids see what a healthy work-life balance looks like.