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Principal's Corner

So Little Time and So Much to Do

It's good to keep children involved in different activities, but how do parents know how much is too much? Check out these tips on how to keep your children from being overscheduled-they might very well make your child's life, and yours, a lot less stressful.

Follow their passions. The best activities for children give them the opportunity to learn more about something they love. To make sure they keep their passion, instead of surrendering to burnout, keep their involvement to just a day or two a week, unless they absolutely beg for more. Even then, check with them periodically to make sure they still are as eager to attend as they used to be. If not, scale back.

Get their input. Parents are so eager to provide opportunities for their children that they sometimes forget the fun of just being a child. Step back before you sign up for an activity and ask your child to tell you what three things he or she most likes to do after school or in the summer. Then choose activities that meet their interests while also providing stimulation.

Broaden their horizons. Although following your child's interests is important, it's also great to introduce your child to something totally new, whether it's a new sport, a musical instrument, or a group like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. The secret to keeping enthusiasm high is to start slowly and gauge your child's interest before committing beyond the first few sessions.

Be supportive, not critical, No matter what your child is interested in remember that your job as a parent is to be supportive. The point of these activities is to expand your child's interests and abilities, not to make him or her a child prodigy or the next athletic superstar.

Schedule “down time.” Creativity can't happen if every minute of a child's time is scheduled. Children need time to ponder, explore, and play. Make sure that when the day's over and the homework's done, there's still time for your child to be a kid.

Play the field. When it comes to sports, specializing in one activity at such a young age is bad news. Not only do pediatricians discourage the kind of repetitive movements that come from concentrated work in one sport, but the kids who totally dedicate them­selves to a single sport early often burn out later and regret not having learned several different sports early, so they have other options.

Mix it up. Although every family and child is different, child psychologists often suggest involving a child in no more than three activities at a time: one social activity, like Boys' Club or a church group; one physical activity, like gymnastics, swimming, or basketball; and one artistic activity, such as an art class or music lessons.

Watch for these signs. The stress of trying to keep up with too many planned activities can take a physical toll on your child. If your child is leading a very busy life, watch for signs of stress, including stomachaches and headaches, difficulty paying attention, a drop-off in interest in activities he or she used to enjoy, and increased "clinginess" with a parent or other close adult (e.g., teacher, babysitter). If you notice any of these signs, chances are your child needs to cut back on activities and de-stress.

If you have to schedule something for your child, make it family time. Children need to have meals with their parents, hear bedtime stories, share chores, and play games. While you're scheduling all their other activities to help them learn and grow, remember that what they most need to learn is that they are special and loved,