Written by Doctor G

Children’s Activities and the Overscheduled Kid

I am a nanny for an eight year old girl. She has asked her parents several times (in my presence) to have a day without an after-school activity. They do not agree, and just keep piling on more activities. She really does need a little free time, do you have any suggestions about what she (or I) can do to help her parents see this?

Anonymous, in PA

I wonder what “problem” her parents are trying to solve?

There must be some reason for them to enroll her in lots of extracurricular activities. One possible way for you to help your charge would be to figure out what her parents’ goals are.

One great way would be to ask. In a non-judgmental way, see if one (or both) of your employers will share with you what they hope the eight year old gets out of her involvement in these activities. If that doesn’t work, it would still be useful to know what some of their goals are in general for their daughter.

Why focus on goals?

Behavior change works best when everyone can find a shared goal.

Encourage this eight year old girl to write down all the advantages she can think of to decreasing her load. All the reasons, silly or serious, mature or juvenile, that she thinks she’d be better off as a person with fewer activities planned outside her home. Help her put a star by each argument she thinks might be meaningful to her parents.

Next, ask her to do some research. What do child psychologists and doctors (or other experts her parents might admire) have to say about kids and free-time vs structured time? One good way to find this out – look at the parenting books already in the home!

Suggest that she put together a little presentation for her parents – maybe a conversation, or a poster, or a letter. She can even practice.

Why should you and she do all this work? 

One – she is learning great skills. To persevere in the face of opposition. To state one’s opinion respectfully, and with forethought. To approach her parents with reason, and reasons.

Two – it might work! This little girl is right – there is a lot of evidence that free time and play time are crucial for kids. She may be able to show her parents that she is already becoming someone they can respect and admire, and that giving her some input into her own schedule will help her continue on that path.

All the best to both of you!

Readers, what do you do when you and your child genuinely disagree about the number of activities they pursue?

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2 thoughts on “Children’s Activities and the Overscheduled Kid”

  1. While we do not disagree about activities such as the ones above, per se, I am a more social person (thus far) than my son. I think I arrange more play dates for the two of us (he’s still 2, so play dates are with parents) than he’d prefer. One way I help accommodate him is to allow him to have some quiet time in his room during a play date at home to take a break if he needs one. We explain to the other child that he needs to take a break from playing for a few minutes. And he still has plenty of time without friends around during the week.

    1. That is a great way to teach him good skills, Aviva! He learns to be part of friend relationships, while still accommodating his own needs. And you get the grown up time that is so crucial when parenting a toddler!

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