Drawing the Line on Kids' Activities
Parenting these days can seem like a nonstop chauffeur service: driving the kids to piano practice and soccer practice and ballet class and art class. It's enough to make some parents worry that their children are involved too many organized activities. Other parents may fear their kids don't join enough.
Health professionals say that the number of classes or activities isn't what's important. It's the nature of those experiences that counts. Kids need one or two extracurricular activities, provided they don’t involve five or more days a week.
"I put a lot of emphasis on having fun. When kids aren't enjoying what they're doing, they may complain that their legs hurt, that they're too tired, that they've got a headache," says Barbara Long, M.D., assistant clinical professor of pediatric and adolescent medicine at the University of California-San Francisco.
These complaints are a less direct way of saying that they just aren't interested in participating, she says.
Taking the lead
Deborah Tolchin, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, adds: "When a child is young, Mommy makes the appointment and the child goes along with it. But as the kid gets older, it's appropriate to let the child take the lead."
Dr. Tolchin says the total amount of time a child may comfortably spend in organized activities depends on the child's age, his or her need for rest, the family's other time and money commitments, and the child's own interests. Some children need more time than others to daydream, play one-on-one or do homework.
The time of year may be an important consideration, too. In the summer, for example, most kids don't have school, so they have more time to recuperate. In winter, days are shorter, so there is less time.
Parents need to be careful not to press too hard, experts warn. You want to be encouraging, not pushy. It's okay to encourage children to continue in something to get them over a hurdle. But to push them into something they have no interest or ability in can create trouble.
Tips for encouragement
For kids who need a little encouragement, experts offer the following tips:
Find out what your child's friends are doing and encourage your child to get involved with those activities.
Take your child to sporting events, concerts or plays to spark an interest.
Play ball at home, take your child swimming or put on small plays with the family.
Encourage your child to get involved in activities in which he or she excels or likes.
Get involved yourself by becoming a scout troop leader or coach. But be sensitive to your child's feelings. Your son might say he wants to quit because he doesn't like it anymore when the real reason is he's embarrassed that his mother called him "honey" in front of the team.