Q: Our two kids are in lots of extracurricular activities (Scouts, sports, drama) and we also do a lot of things together as a family. Lately, both kids have seemed rundown. I'm feeling a little guilty because I suspect that it's because they've got so many things going on. How do you tell?
A: Sounds to me like your kids' lack of energy is the result of burnout. But don't beat yourself up too badly. Childhood burnout is incredibly common these days and with pressure coming in from friends, family, the community and the kids themselves — it's hard to say who's responsible.
Extracurricular activities are important. They can teach kids important life lessons, such as teamwork, self-confidence and self-sufficiency, skills that help them become well-rounded adults. That's great — up to a point. And that point is when extracurriculars leave little or no time for children to just be children.
The fallout from nonstop activities goes well beyond exhaustion. Overbooking can lead to anxiety and depression. Perhaps worst of all, experts are finding that the more time kids spend doing structured activities, the less they're able to think creatively and imaginatively.
So how do you know if your child is too busy? Here are some signs.
Frequent headaches If they're stronger than normal, last a long time or happen a lot, it's possible that the child isn't getting enough sleep or that he's feeling too much pressure to perform.
Stomach problems Kids have been using stomachaches as a way to get out of doing things since chores were invented. But if they're real, they could be a symptom of stress or anxiety. And even if they're not, they could be your child's way of saying that he needs a break.
Temper, temper Don't chalk up irritability or short temper to being a teen. Overreacting and snapping at people for no reason is another subconscious way of saying, "I need a break."
Grades drop Most kids struggle with their grades at some point, but while school problems can be a sign that a child doesn't understand the material, it's also possible that he's so tired that he can't think straight.
Go over your kids' schedules and figure out which activities are most important to them. Then, working with them, look for ways to free up some time.