As kids and parents continue to prepare for back to school, the school schedule is not the only thing in mind as the family calendar starts to fill up. Increasingly, after school activities are vying for prime spots on your child’s busy calendar. While you want your child to have the enrichment opportunities of his or her peers, you also want to find balance for your family, and you are tired of the battle for quality family time. After school activities create a pressure for family members to squeeze in sports, music lessons, homework, dinner, and self-care – and hopefully there is time for some affection and bonding in there somewhere!
While there is no set prescription for the ideal balance of down time and structured activity time, the number one takeaway from this Science Daily review of mental health and extracurricular activities is about family values. What works for your family is the key to an ideal balance. When you start to feel stressed, or notice that your child is showing signs of stress, this is a cue that perhaps your child is overscheduled. When activities that should be “no-brainers” like completing homework, chores, and bath time become battles, this may mean that your child doesn’t have enough free time. When you start to feel frazzled, and a drive through is a more common “family meal” than in your kitchen, this may also be a sign that the family is overscheduled.
When your child has therapy needs, this can add an even greater complication to the family schedule puzzle. Weighing your child’s true mental health or medical needs with the desire for him or her to have typical childhood experiences, with the downtime that every family needs, becomes trickier. Not to mention the strain that therapy and extracurricular activities can have on a family’s budget!
The key is finding what works for you and your family. Perhaps have each child make a list of extracurricular activities that they want to do (you will find far more cooperation if a child is interested or engaged in the activity. They have already spent the day in school, sometimes doing things they didn’t want to do. They don’t want to do that after school, too). Have them highlight one that they feel like they “must” do (if dance is your child’s life, it may be worth finding the time to have a dance lesson after school, to keep him or her engaged and interested in the hobby and building the skill), and one that they’d “like” to do (coding might be interesting, but it isn’t as important to your son or daughter as baseball is). Then, fitting in the appropriate therapies as relevant, see how you can have activities work in a “double duty” component. Can your child take a coding class at school? Many public schools are focusing on STEAM skills and coding is increasingly being added to class schedules and clubs. Can you find a therapeutic dance or sports class, or a social skills group that also includes physical activity? It all boils down to family happiness, balance, and a lifestyle that is sustainable for all family members. If you are having trouble finding the right balance, or need guidance on supporting your child’s many hobbies (or lack of any), contact us! We can help.