|Wednesday, October 27th, 2010||| CWK Producer|
“It's really important for parents and schools and kids to work together r- to think about the optimal balance between homework and extra-curricular activities and time with friends, and then just time to hang out and 'veg'.”
– Nadine Kaslow, Ph.D, psychologist
Everybody needs a little playtime – even turtles – according to new research from the University of Tennessee. They say that playtime, may, in fact, make for a life worth living. So what about kids, who with academics and sports and dance and theater are too-often often-scheduled and over-stressed? Some experts have a solution...to schedule in free time.
Tessa, for example, spends five days a week, four hours a day after school at gymnastics class.
"By the time I get home, it's like eight [o'clock] or so," she says, "and I eat and do my homework and take a shower and talk to my parents about how the day's gone - and then I go to bed."
Experts have come up with a solution for kids like Tessa: Schedule in free time.
"Almost by definition a 'schedule of free time' sounds kind of paradoxical to all of us," says psychologist Nadine Kaslow, "but I do think planning for free time or for down time is very, very important for children."
She says along with creative play and spending time with family and friends, free time provides moments away from competition.
"With all these activities and schoolwork, there's tremendous pressure to perform - often to compete, to excel," says Kaslow, "and that leisure time and free time doesn't have those demands."
On the other hand, she says, some kids don't handle free time very well.
That's something Tessa discovered last year, when she decided to take a break.
"I didn't like it as much as being in gymnastics, even though I had time," she remembers.
Experts say let your children choose their after school activities, choose how busy they want to be, but watch for signs of burnout.
"They will tell you, whether it's through words or tears - or they'll say, 'when are we going again,' or they'll start screaming when you say it's time to go," says Kaslow.
Organized activities outside of a child's school day certainly have their benefits: social skills, self-discipline, physical exercise and sportsmanship, exploration and enjoyment, to name a few. For some families, however, an over-scheduled existence may be fueled by a desire not to be left out or to build the resume of extracurricular activities that students and parents view as necessary for college admissions.
According to experts at Kids Health, even those parents who try to help their children cut back on some activities can run up against coaches who won't tolerate absences and kids who want to keep up with their friends. The key is to schedule things in moderation and choose activities with a child's age, temperament, interests, and abilities in mind. Here are some simple suggestions:
Signs that your family and your child are overscheduled include always eating meals on the go, the kids are always tired, there's a drop in grades, and constant complaints about going to practice or games. Signs that your child does not do well with a lot of spare time, on the other hand, include depression, anxiety and loneliness.
Many times kids are bogged down with too much homework. Determine what is a decent amount - and talk to your child's teacher about minimizing the workload if necessary. If your children are simply too busy, look at all of their activities - and talk about where they can scale back.
Make sure, despite their busy schedule, to keep lines of communication open with your children. Use time in the car to listen - and to talk about their lives.