It’s that time of year again: activity registration. We all want our kids to be well-rounded individuals, and there is a long list of worthwhile programs available in art, science, sports, technology, music, leadership, aquatics, theatre, fitness and more.
While we can agree that’s important to expose our kids to a variety of experiences, we certainly don’t want to overload them to the point where they’re tired, grumpy, unmotivated, or burnt out. It’s a fine line that can be tricky to navigate, but you’re more than qualified to steer this ship. Here are 7 tips to prevent burnout and keep a firm grip on your family’s schedule and prevent things from getting out of hand.
There’s no question that your child will benefit from participating in organized activities, sports teams or community groups. Even so, it’s important to remember that you don’t have unlimited resources when it comes to time, energy and money. Your child (and by extension, you) can’t do everything – and it wouldn’t serve you well if you did.
Rather than spreading yourself too thin, consider prioritizing specific activities for each family member. Evaluate your choices based on quality, not quantity. Here are some tips to guide your decisions:
- It’s okay to say no. If your family has a busy schedule, maybe your child doesn’t need to attend every birthday party and playdate. Also, there will be times (like when they spontaneously ask for horseback riding lessons) where you’ll need to be honest and say, “We can’t afford that right now.”
- Keep new activities short-term. You want to encourage your child if they show an interest in something new. Keep it manageable by starting small, rather than committing to a full season or term. For example, register for a week-long camp, tag along with a buddy on “bring a friend day,” or inquire if there is a shorter introductory session for newcomers.
- Follow the season. Rather than shiver through swimming lessons in the winter, choose a spring session when beaches and pools are on the horizon. And, as hockey season comes to a close, would your young athlete be better served by extra weeks of spring hockey, or by developing additional skills and fitness from a different sport?
- Avoid personal bias. You may have signed up your child for your favourite activity with good intentions, but if they’re not passionate about it, maybe it’s time to re-consider.
Take charge of the calendar.
Become a scheduling ninja using whatever tool suits you best. For example, a shared calendar app can be easily updated and allows all family members to see the latest version. Some families (like mine) prefer to go old-school with a giant fridge calendar. Mabel’s Labels co-founder Julie Cole has six kids, so she relies on a wall-mounted white board with a specific colour marker for each child.
Maintain the calendar diligently and protect it against unwanted bookings that are a drain on your time. Take the attitude that something should only be added if it is truly worthy. Be proactive and identify opportunities for a “home night” where your family sits down for a healthy meal together and does something as a group – such as walk the dog, play a board game or have a family movie night. (If you need classic family-friendly movie suggestions, we’ve got some for you.) Blocking things off on the calendar helps ensure you’re still getting quality time as a family, even as other evenings require you to “divide and conquer” for the kids’ activities.
Kids are people, too.
All human beings tend to get cranky and irritable when they’re overwhelmed. Plus, kids can’t tap into the perspective, resources and life experience that we adults supposedly have. (Even with all that, I feel like I’m just barely holding it together at times.)
To prevent burnout, monitor your kids for warning signs that they may be overtired or stressed. Be alert to any changes to their usual pattern in appetite, mood, sleep or behaviour. Pay attention if they repeatedly complain about a given activity or suddenly say that they’re sick and need to stay home.
If a minor “red flag” pops up, follow your instincts. You know your child best and are uniquely positioned to help them. For example, my kids have what I call a “second day crash.” After a major event, tournament or road trip, they typically cope surprisingly well with life the next day. However, on the second day post-competition, their adrenaline invariably runs out and they descend into grumpiness. Understanding this phenomenon helps me be more patient and responsive when things start to turn in a negative direction. Now, I purposely set aside some “quiet time” on the second day so they can rest and recover.
Find time for unstructured play.
A busy kid needs time to unwind after a full slate of activities, and a bit of recreational screen time is fine. However, today’s highly programmed kids also need to use their imaginations and engage in independent creative play. Help refresh their mind in a different way with books, art supplies, and educational toys like Lego and Play-Doh. And, don’t forget to spend some free time outside! Kids will naturally gain physical and mental health benefits from unstructured outdoor play in the backyard, at the park or on the bike path.
Be diligent about the basics.
Nutrition, sleep and proper hygiene are the foundation for a happy, healthy kid. Take every opportunity to serve wholesome foods, adhere to a consistent bedtime, and practice regular handwashing. Of course, there will be times when your child’s activity schedule challenges your carefully constructed routine. When this happens, be as resourceful as you can. For example, on evenings where you’ll be driving home from a late practice or out-of-town game, pre-stock the backseat with hand wipes, a water bottle, healthy on-the-go snacks, and a pillow. If there is an early-morning practice before school, clear your child’s schedule for the evening, so they can have some “down time” and get to bed earlier.
Manage homework proactively.
Extra-curricular activities should be balanced with school responsibilities. You can avoid last-minute homework stress by staying ahead of the game. Many teachers now use an online platform (such as Google Classroom) to post assignments and updates. Post your child’s username and password next to your computer and log in regularly. When homework is posted, be opportunistic about having your child complete it when they are home or have a lighter day of activities. If there is an independent Home Reading Log, stash one of your child’s books in the car so they can read on the drive or during any “waiting around” time.
Find your balance.
Sometimes fellow parents are detrimental to the cause, when they casually brag about their child’s private music lessons or extra ice time with an elite skating coach. This breeds unhealthy pressure and unnecessary comparison. Every family should do what is right for them, and you innately know what your team needs. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to keep up with anyone else.
As you head into back-to-school (and back-to-activities) season, be vigilant with your family’s schedule and personalize it to suit your needs. Find creative ways to spend quality time as a family and recharge your batteries. Most importantly, keep an eye on everyone (including yourself) to ensure you’re not taking on too much. You’ve got this!