What You’ll Find Inside: If you’re wondering whether your children are overwhelmed with what they have on their plate, you may be right. Inside you’ll find out how to tell and what you can do.
I was totally exhausted. Constantly scrambling, I felt stretched too thin by the constant driving, dinners-on-the-go and managing a packed family schedule. My ears were buzzing with the sound of my internal dialogue of “what’s next?” How was I supposed to cram in all these activities, and homework, as well as a smidge of family time? My daughter was anxious and seemed to be withdrawing. I was crestfallen. Had it all been for nothing?
Something needed to change in our house. To start, I took a long deep look at what was filling our time. I read a few books about simplifying children’s lives. I researched, I tested.
Some of the signs and symptoms of being too busy caught me off guard. I hadn’t put them together with ‘being too busy’ even though I was living that chaos.
It’s easy to miss signs of overwhelm, but it’s important for us parents to be on the lookout. In our ever-changing world of speed and technology, everyone seems to be in a race to get somewhere.
Get into the best school, on the best team, land the best job, buy the best house. Unintentionally, we project this fast-paced lifestyle onto our kids, with often detrimental effects. If you think your children may be overwhelmed, you’re probably right – and you’re in the right place.
10 Signs You’re Child May Be Too Busy
- Family Dinners Rarely Include the Whole Family and Are Often On-The-Go.As your children get older and do more activities, it becomes challenging to arrange dinners together. Many activities fall during the dinner hour and kids may not even be getting home until almost bedtime some nights.
- Your Child Tires Easily and Complains of Headaches and Other Pains.Mysterious pains can seem to come from nowhere, but these complaints can also sometimes be linked to stress, poor eating and/or sleeping habits. It’s always wise to check in with your healthcare professional if your child shows recurrent bouts of a particular pain.
- Your Child Seems Withdrawn.They appear overwhelmed and forgetful and find it hard to stay on task. When our brains overload, it’s natural for some things to drop off the radar. Although we all become overwhelmed occasionally, if your child seems overwhelmed or withdrawn from you, there may be too much on their plate.
- Your Child is Showing Anxiety and More Sensitive Than Usual.We know the rate of childhood and teen depression is on the rise and being over-scheduled could be partly to blame. The more activities the child is in, the more onus is on them to perform and meet the expectations of people around them – teachers, coaches, parents. Although this is not the cause, it puts kids at risk for anxiety disorders and depression.
- Your Child Isn’t Connecting with Friends in the Way They Used To.Chronic stress can lead to feelings of overwhelm. If your child is unusually quiet, isolated and not connecting with friends, this may be a sign he’s too busy.
- Grades are Dropping.Some children are high-functioning under stress, but others are not. Many of us become paralyzed when we have too many things to do. Often, the least engaging subjects/activities suffer.
- Your Child Doesn’t Know What to Do with Free Time.Imagination and confidence to explore are like muscles need exercising. When a child isn’t in the habit of thinking up imaginative worlds, games or even exploring, it can be a real challenge for them to start doing this. Downtime to develop these skills is critical for a child’s cognitive and social development. This one really surprised me!
- You Spend More Time Together in the Car Than You Do at Home During Waking Hours.Even if you make the time spent commuting meaningful, it is still not the same as sitting down for a meal together, face-to-face or reading a book, snuggling close. There is an inherent disconnect when you’re strapped in your own seat a few rows away from your child or children.
- Your Child Seems Less Interested in Activities that Used to Give Her Pleasure.There may be a genuine shift in interests but often when we overload ourselves or children, it’s hard to take pleasure in the things we love because there is less mental space or physical time available. This one caught me off guard too, even though it’s pretty obvious (I suffer from it as well).
- The Busyness Tires You.If you’re exhausted, chances are your child is too!
So What Can We Do About it?
Think about how you handle your life when things get hectic. What’s the fix? Usually, you need to stop, assess and cut back on the non-essentials. In his book Simplicity Parenting, parenting educator and author Kim John Payne writes about soothing a soul fever.
He advises parents to treat childhood overwhelm (soul fever) just as you would treat a physical fever. You notice what’s developing, quiet things down (pull back), bring them close (connect), let it run its course.
Only then do we see the strength (their old self) return. If your child is feeling the effects of being too busy, you need to take back the reins before your child burns out.
1. Balance Schedules
One of the first things you can do is to set ground rules about how many activities you will allow per child per term. Look at the schedule over the course of the year and see if you can spread out the activities. While doing this, it’s important to know the time impact of each activity. Be sure your child understands how much time each activity will require and give them an idea of how it may affect homework, sleep schedules, etc. Displaying a calendar with each person’s activities is also a must for any busy family. Keep it in a handy spot and colour code family members to make it easier to grasp at a glance. Read this great post over at wondermomwannabe.com on why to colour-code your family 🙂
Sharing the driving with other parents is an option that can affect your stress level and that of your other children who would otherwise be dragged along for the ride. However, it may not lower the stress of the child in the activities (if they’re already feeling overwhelmed). It does also take away from the time you could spend in the car (often, valuable talk time).
Since the family doesn’t center on one person, you’ve got to consider the needs of each member of the family before committing to any activity. Having weekly family meetings to talk about the following week’s schedule, can help you see if something isn’t working. And while you’re at your family meeting, why not set some priorities? Family responsibilities and school should come first. My two oldest girls have very busy dance and karate schedules but I remind them they have a responsibility to our family first. If they have chores to do or there are family obligations, they can’t use the “but I have dance/karate” excuse. We plan their chores and family obligations with their schedules in mind, but they have to manage their time. Likewise, if they have schoolwork due, it comes first.
2. Make Dinner Together a Top Priority
Preserve family dinners and treat them as sacred time. Anne Fischel, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School and founder of The Family Dinner Project writes “kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them. This daily mealtime connection is like a seat belt for travelling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence and all its possible risky behaviors.”
You can switch up dinner times each day depending on the activities or say “no” to certain activities that interfere with the dinner hour. If dinner time is a stress for your family, check out some creative ideas over at The Family Dinner Project. They also offer a free course Food, Fun, and Conversation: 4 Weeks to Better Family Dinners.
3. Protect Family Time
With activities, focus on your child’s passions and say no to the rest. Recognize your reasons for choosing each activity. Make sure it’s something your child cares about, not just something you feel would be good to know someday. Also, don’t give in to peer pressure from other parents. It all comes down to your child.
It’s also ok to take a break. Don’t fret if the kids miss one or two practices or games in a season because you’ve spent time together as a family.
Create scheduled family time. Studies show family dinners together can be one of the most important indicators of emotional wellness of children. Even if it means eating at different times each day and planning many crockpot/instant pot recipes per week. This is better than everyone eating in different spots. Remember to schedule a regular time to do other things together; dust off the board games, go for a bike ride, take time off and go camping (and leave technology at home).
Know when to say no. Also, know you have the power to say NO. You can talk about what you could drop to accommodate a new activity. You are the parent and have to be the ultimate decision-maker. No matter how persuasive the child is or how worried you are it will affect your relationship with them. This is especially important for divorced parents who feel the need to please to keep their child’s heart. Sometimes you have to be firm and take the chance – your children will look back and understand in the long run.
Protect downtime at all costs. Pencil it in and be firm in your resolve. Resist the urge to fit extra things in.
Spend time in nature together each week. This one seems so simple. During extreme weather spells, I sometimes find myself hunkered down for over a week with little to no time outside. While the cold weather may not be tolerable, you could bring the snow in for some indoor snow play. If it’s too hot, get out before the temperature peaks.
I find it’s when we need to be in nature the most I’m least likely to suggest it. When we are all tired or bickering or stressed about something. Get out there!
Need some ideas when you’re outside? This article from childmind.org has some fantastic ideas!
How does your family balance structured activities with quiet family time? I’d love to know! Please leave me a comment below and tell me how you manage your family’s downtime, or what you need to create more downtime for your crew!