The Family Unit

Are Your Kids Over-Programmed?

Fall is almost here, time to register children in extracurricular activities.

There are no shortage of choices for military families. Everything from music lessons, art classes, and karate, to team sports like hockey are available. Also, in another few weeks teens will be out in full force applying for part-time evening and weekend jobs. Watching children learn new skills or develop a passion is exciting and rewarding, but what if they aren’t able to keep up with their schedule? Every commitment requires time and energy.

Shelby Taylor is the Youth Services Programmer with the Military Family Resource Centre, National Capital Region (MFRC NCR). Along with childcare, nursery school, licensed kindergarten daycare, and school age daycare she and other staff offer between thirty and forty extracurricular activities for children and youth.

“We don’t want children to always be looking at their watches. As adults we do so much of that. Over-programmed generally describes a child enrolled in too many extracurricular activities. So many they experience stress, their schoolwork or relationships may suffer, and they may not be able to maintain balance in their lives,” said Taylor. The words over-programmed strikes fear in the heart of parents.

Avoiding over-programming is not that difficult. Within the family each child should be seen as an individual. “Set goals with your children, rather than for your children,” said Taylor. “Identify through free play what your younger children are interested in. Help children identify what they can do well and they will succeed.” She recommends sitting down with the family to discuss which activities appeal to each child. Look at the bigger picture. Make sure your schedule can handle not just one child’s activities, but everyone’s demands. “Listen to your children.”

As a family establish priorities with each child to make sure children’s academic success is not effected by extracurricular activities. “If marks start to drop have a plan already in place to rectify the situation,” said Taylor. This may involve anything from hiring a tutor to giving up an activity for a season. If your teen has a part-time job and their marks are suffering, together you need to examine your collective priorities. If saving money for university is important it must be measured against present academic success.

With regard to quitting activities, “Activities are expensive. Often if something is unfamiliar to a child they immediately don’t like it. Allow your child time to develop a taste for an activity. Not unlike developing a taste for new food. Set little goals like staying or participating for fifteen minutes.” In this way, dropping the activity entirely may be avoided.

Escaping over-programming and maintaining balance is difficult but worth it. “Children need time to find this balance, and yet they need exposure to many activities,” said Taylor. Set goals as a family, identify what children can do well, establish priorities together, and be prepared to constantly re-evaluate children’s activities and everyone will have an enjoyable, fulfilling school year.
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Vicki L Morrison

Thanks to her husband's military career Vicki reinvented herself as a writer so she could work from home, while taking care of their three kids. A former MFRC executive director Vicki is a passionate advocate for military families who loves telling their stories.

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