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Avoiding an Overbooked School Year

The Familiar Fall Scene

"Mom, I have soccer practice twice a week this year," announces 11-year-old Allison. And I think I'm going to make jazz band. Oh, and I want to keep up my sax lessons and take piano." As she chatters away, your heart sinks and your blood pressure rises. Another overscheduled school year's about to begin.

The end of summer brings an end to downtime for many busy families. From judo to jazz dancing -- opportunities abound for kids to pursue interests outside of school. And as they get older, homework loads also increase. These days, the demands on children's time can easily become overwhelming.

No surprise -- overscheduling is a strain for parents too. After all, you're the ones providing the transportation, keeping track of schedules, and making sure the piano gets practiced and the schoolwork gets done.

If you're worried that your child's school-year schedule may get out of hand, try strategizing ahead of time. These conversation starters can help.

The Words You Need

The Words: "It sounds as though you want to participate in lots of activities this year. It's neat that you're interested in so many different things."

The Reason: It's best to start out with a neutral or supportive tone. Many pre-adolescents are extremely sensitive to criticism, whether it's intended or not!

The Words: "Let's write down all the activities you want to do this year."

The Reason: Making out a schedule is a good way to help your child get a concrete, visual sense of how much he or she intends to do.

The Words: "How much homework do you think you're going to have?"

The Reason: Make sure your child has enough time each day for schoolwork. Don't forget to include long-term assignments and projects.

The Words: "Let's figure out what chores you're going to need to do and how long they'll take."

The Reason: Remember to include family obligations. Some, like setting or clearing the table, don't take up much time. Others, like walking the dog, may take up significant chunks of a day.

The Words: "What about hanging out?"

The Reason: Everyone needs downtime. Does your child have enough time for relaxing and recharging during the week?

The Words: "It looks to me like you're going to be awfully busy this year. I'd have trouble meeting all of these commitments. What do you think?"

The Reason: If, after you make out a schedule, you still think that your child's going to be overloaded, then say so.

The Words: "I think we may need to cut some things. Let's figure out what's most important to you and to me."

The Reason: This is a time to hear your child's priorities and share your own. If your top concern is, say, schoolwork, then make your expectations clear. In terms of extracurricular activities, it's probably best to let children set their priorities.

The Words: "I know all these activities are important to you, but let's check in every month or so and see how you're doing. If you're having trouble with schoolwork you may have to drop an activity."

The Reason: Experience is the best teacher. If your kids eliminate some activities, but are still overloaded, or if they refuse to eliminate any -- then it may be best to let them try to do too many things and deal with the consequences.

Next Steps

As children get older, it's important for them to start keeping track of where they need to be at what time. Post a schedule of your child's activities in a place where she can see it every day. Encouraging your child to take responsibility for her schedule can also remove some of the burden from your shoulders.

Lastly, think carefully about why your child is involved in so many activities. Is he or she playing piano or taking dance classes to please you? If so, these activities are likely to cause struggles at home that will only add to the pressure of a school year.

More on: Back to School


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