Parent and Expert Tips for Juggling Busy Kids

April 8, 2011

By Stephanie Pappas

Over-scheduling is a hot topic, but in the end, parents have to strike their own balance. LiveScience asked parents and experts how they set the extracurricular agenda for their own kids. One thing is for sure: Every family is different.

“There’s a difference between doing a lot and accomplishing a lot. In what I see, students erroneously pile on more activities because they believe that the more you do the better chance you have of getting into Harvard. And that’s just simply not true.

Successful college applicants generally are not well-rounded, they’re well-lopsided. So I usually advise students to spend more time on fewer activities. Do what you like, do a lot of it, and excel at it.”

– Steven Goodman, Educational Consultant and Admissions Strategist,

“As a mom to a high-schooler, middle-schooler and grammar-school child I am amazed at what a raging issue this is.

My kids are all very involved in scheduled activities and we are also able to find lots of time for unscheduled play. My son rides his bike and his Ground Drifter to other friends’ houses in the neighborhood, my older daughter frequently just hangs out with her friends and my youngest loves to play anything in the driveway with either me or my husband. They are all very active – dance, karate, drum lessons, boy scouts, baseball, lacrosse, tennis and horseback riding but there is also ample time to just have down time and hang out.

I don’t quite get the ‘dilemma’ and why kids can’t have both in their lives! I am also a working mom, so I don’t have the luxury of being home to be sure this is all happening – my kids figure it out on their own!”

– Bev Flaxington, consultant, adjunct professor at Suffolk University and author of “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior” (ATA Press, 2010)

“Our five school-age children are heavily involved in extracurriculars. My husband and I have found that two of our kids are very competitive and award-driven. These two don’t mind jumping from activity to activity. The other three enjoy being involved in something but get burned out if they don’t have time each night to unwind and do their own thing.

With so many activities going on it is not uncommon for us to jump from soccer practice to wrestling practice (or football depending on the season) to dance class, math tutoring, a choir concert or church group to basketball practice. Very rarely do we have a day off from an activity. Our weekends are often spent out of town due to tournaments. The kids really enjoy spending time in other cities, seeing new places and, of course, swimming in the hotel pools. To make it fun, we have added what the kids call our ‘hall of fame’ to the front hallway of our house. It’s an entire hallway dedicated to their achievements. They love being able to add a new award or medal to the shrine!”

– Mandy Alexander, mother of eight in Hudsonville, Mich.

“My kids love everything and want to do everything. I believe kids can be overscheduled, plus it is expensive and time-consuming to have them participate in everything they wish, but I also know that it keeps them out of trouble and is good for them physically and emotionally. At this point, I allow my son (12), who enjoys competitive swimming, to train before school 3 times a week, and after school five times a week and on Saturday mornings. My 10 year old does swimming and karate (though he swims less often). It is a madhouse of driving and organizing for me, but they are happy and we frequently discuss how they feel – if they are happy and enjoying what they do. I think we have found a balance.”

– Lori Harasem, events coordinator at the Galt Museum and Archives in Alberta, Canada.

“I had my children later in life at the age of 41 and 44, after conceiving naturally. My children are now 8 and 5 years old. I grew up in the 1960’s and early ’70’s – a time I now call the ‘Huckleberry Finn’ era. I think the age of technology and over-scheduling has adverse effect both on parents and kids. The modern parent trap we get caught in is the sense that that if we are not running our kids to classes and events 24/7, we’re failing them and that they will fail in a competitive world. The frenzy has a certain amount of idiocy inherent to it. When I was growing up, we had a chance to smell the flowers, to go on adventures together and use our imaginations to make them up. My children were shocked to learn that I actually built a “fort” out of blankets, chairs and skipping rope in my room on a rainy summer day.”

– Angel La Liberte, Santa Cruz, Calif., founder of the A Child After 40 campaign.

“I have three children who are all involved in some kind of activity either before or after school. My 12-year-old son stays after school some days to play basketball, and he also has soccer practice two nights a week and games on Sunday. My 8-year-old son stays after school a few times a month for Cub Scouts and has piano lessons once a week, and my 6-year-old daughter goes to story time and plays basketball before school, has soccer on Saturdays and has piano lessons once a week.

All my kids really enjoy the activities they are involved in, and I never get any complaints. A part of me feels that they need this type of ‘fun’ structure outside of the school environment, where there is a little less pressure. Plus, to them, it’s more time with their friends. On the days that we’re not running around, they enjoy spending time outside (when the weather is nice) with friends (or each other), or just playing in the house. It might seem like they are ‘over-scheduled,’ but not too many activities overlap each other, which makes it a little easier. I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I don’t mind taking them to the places they need to be.”

– Christen S. Prete, author in Poughkeepsie, NY.

“As much as I hate to admit it, I do think our kids are over-scheduled. And I’m not only doing it, but like many moms, I’m the victim in terms of exhaustion running from one thing to another. However … our world is different today. When we grew up, we’d play for hours until dark in the neighborhood, had full reign of the streets, and didn’t worry as much about safety. The whole, ‘It takes a village,’ was a great concept – and hanging out was what we did.

I do think that kids need more down time, and that they should take responsibility in terms of helping to arrange carpools and ways to make it easier for mom to facilitate their wild schedules, and that they shouldn’t be allowed to be over-scheduled to the point that it interferes with homework or causes them stress or anxiety.

However, if we’re “over-scheduling” them in sports that keep their little bodies active, there are many benefits in terms of physical activity, healthy diversions from electronics or drugs and alcohol.

So I guess I’m a little bit on the fence. I’d say a ‘healthy amount of scheduled activities,’ if kept in balance, is a good thing!”

– Amy Kossoff Smith, Founder of The MomTini Lounge and mom of 3 boys in Maryland.

<< Back to Steve in the News