How Many Extracurricular Activities Are Too Many?

Filed under: Development: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Activities: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Development: Big Kids, Activities: Big Kids, Development: Tweens

Ballet, tennis, Mandarin, pottery ... where do you draw the line? Credit: Getty Images

You daughter has Little League, your son has band practice and you have a doctor's appointment. All at the same time. In three different towns. What's an already harried parent to do? Sometimes, it feels like all these organized activities conspire to make parents disorganized.

Most parents can agree that extracurricular activities, such as after-school sports or weekend art classes are wonderful complements to their children's lives.

"They help provide balance to the academics of school and can develop qualities like discipline, tenacity and sportsmanship," say Mike and Renee Mosiman, husband-and-wife co-authors of "The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child's Intellectual Potential," in an e-mail to ParentDish. "A sense of personal accomplishment can be achieved when a child masters a skill such as learning a new stroke in swimming or making it to the next belt level in karate."

That's all well and good, but where do you draw the line on how many activities and how often to participate?

Like many things in life, moderation is key. The Mosimans also believe parents should only allow their children to do one or two activities at a time, and that they should be chosen based on each child's own interests.

"Overscheduled adults have overscheduled their children," says Debbie Mandel, a stress-management specialist in New York and mother of three.

Mandel says many parents are signing their kids up for a wide range of activities they feel they should be doing.

"Children need some down time to explore their own creativity and simply play," she tells ParentDish in an e-mail.

Similarly, Barack Levin, a stay-at-home dad and author of "The Diaper Chronicles
," calls for a more authentic way of parenting.

"Listen to your kids and they'll tell you what they want and what they like," he says. "If they don't tell you, then watch them. You'll see if your child is athletic or more oriented in arts or music. Watch, listen and talk to your kids."

Levin recommends doing new activities on a month-by-month basis; this way there's little pressure for your child to stick with an activity he or she detests. At the end of the month, talk with your child and evaluate whether or not to continue. Levin tells a story of a child who, after a month of taekwondo, told his father he hated it. When asked why, the boy explained that he was always hungry and couldn't focus.

Identify the problem and come up with a solution, Levin says, and you might discover a completely unrelated reason as to why your child "hates" the activity. The boy ate a little something before class and karate-chopped happily ever after.

"Parents can tell their children that once they sign up for the activity, they are committed to participate to the end of the class or season," the Mosimans write. "This teaches kids to follow through and encourages both parents and kids to be especially selective when choosing an activity."

Related: Teens More Stressed Now Than During Great Depression

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.