How many after-school activities are too many for your child?

Dear Sharon,

In thinking about after-school activities for this school year, my husband and I were wondering if there’s a limit for our 10-year-old son. People talk a great deal about over-scheduled kids. What’s your opinion on what’s appropriate for this age group?

Dear parents,

Ten-year-olds often benefit from extracurricular activities that can deepen interests, boost self-esteem, and strengthen or expand social circles. After-school activities can help young people be physically active, socially adept, and passionate about developing skills that they will enjoy for many years.

Nevertheless, it is true that over scheduling children after school can become draining or stressful. It is important to keep in mind a child’s individual personality when thinking through his after-school schedule. Some children thrive on lots of physical and intellectual stimulation. Others do better with periodic “down time” or one-on-one attention from a parent, sitter, or friend after a full day at school. Making a schedule to suit your 10-year-old’s needs can make a world of difference.

If in the past a full schedule has helped a child stay happy, relaxed, sleeping and eating well, making and keeping friends, and doing well in school, then a busy regimen is probably a good match. However, if a child with a similar schedule has shown an increasing number of behavior problems at home or at school and has a hard time “winding down” at night, a more relaxed routine might be in order. Many children benefit from a mix of planned activities and one or two days with a lighter afternoon.

The beginning of the year is a good time to come up with a program and see how it goes. Sometimes a demanding teacher, school regimen, or the choices of peers can influence scheduling decisions. There are usually several times throughout the year when parents can alter an after-school routine if needed.

Of course, many parents rely on after-school programs for childcare while working. Even when after-school activities are a necessity, it is important to find ways to tailor details to meet a child’s needs whenever possible. Maintaining a good relationship with teachers and other personnel who know and think well about a child can help make doing so easier. Caring staff members are often able to help think through ways to create a more appropriate plan if parents let them know one is needed.

Remember that even though 10-year-olds can be independently minded, it is essential that they spend some quality time regularly with one or both parents. Time with mom and dad helps reassure, ground, and guide children in unique and fundamental ways. Even happy, busy, young people greatly benefit from time to talk, process, and relax with mom or dad. To ensure time for important family time after-school schedules might have to be limited or cut short. Homework requirements might also have to be considered.

Also, whenever possible, time with parents should not solely concentrate on completing homework or getting ready for the next day. Even a few minutes to enjoy each other’s company once or twice a week can be an important part of preparation for the upcoming teenage years — when a strong relationship with parents is important.

Thanks for thinking about this important question. Your efforts will make a difference to your child.

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