Do you ever feel like the more you do as an adult, the more run-down and burned out you feel? The same seems to be true for children, though as parents, many of us feel the inner-struggle to keep them as busy as possible . . . to make sure they are signing up for enough extracurriculars that they turn into well-rounded kids. But is there a threshold? Can we sign them up for too much stuff? We turned to Erin Stokes, ND and Medical Director at MegaFood, for guidance. The short answer? Yes. We can push them too much. "Overscheduling can lead to lack of sleep and children feeling stressed, two things that can lead to a weakened immune system," Stokes says. That, we all know, turns into colds and illness. But she has some tips for us all:
Start by asking yourself a simple question.
Where is this need to enroll our kids in a million classes coming from? "I think a valuable question for parents to ask themselves is, does this activity make my child happy? Does it bring them joy? Or it working toward a greater goal that we all agree is valuable? These questions tend to get easier to answer as kids get older and can accurately articulate what they do and don't like to do," Stokes advises. If they're not asking for the gym, focus on something more laid-back with less of a commitment, like just going outside. "I encourage parents to place a higher priority on activities that get kids exercising and outdoors. Kids (and adults) are spending less time outside, and there is clear evidence that exercising and being outdoors can elevate mood and reduce stress."
What does your child like to do?
This may seem obvious, but if you're forcing them to be part of something that's making them unhappy, that can cause a lot of stress. "A child who is an extrovert may truly thrive from more activities, while an introverted child may need a day off to recharge with some quiet time alone or one-on-one time with a parent," Stokes advises.
Schedule downtime the way you would activity time.
Be sure to bake in rest into your calendar. "Soccer practices and play dates always find themselves on your calendar, but if you're feeling like your children are stressed with all the activities, be sure to schedule some quiet time at home. Put in on your shared calendar and mark yourself as busy so nothing else gets in the way of this chill out time. Don't be afraid to say no and cut down on activities if you gauge your kids can't handle it all."
Pay attention to their sleep.
"The pediatric sleep community recommends that kids three to five years old need 11-13 hours of sleep, children five to 10 years old need 10-11 hours, and adolescents 10 to 17 years old need eight-and-a-half to nine-and-a-half hours of sleep," Stokes highlights. If you're coming home from traveling baseball so late on the weekends that they're not getting enough sleep, you might want to reassess.
Look out for signs of stress.
This might sound obvious, but parents aren't the only ones who can be worn thin. "It's important for parents to recognize their own stress levels and if all of the driving around and getting to activities on time is creating the parent(s) too much stress," Stokes says. "We know that stress negatively impacts the immune system at any age. If your child starts complaining about the activity or shows clear disinterest, that may be a sign that it's a stressor, or simply that there are too many activities on the plate."
The biggest takeaway? Make the involvement about what brings them joy, not about what you feel you should be doing with them as a parent.