Is your child overloaded?

By Petro-Anne Vlok
22 September 2016

Ballet, rugby, music lessons, extra maths... By the time kids get home they’re exhausted – and homework hasn’t even been started yet!

Today children are almost as busy as their parents. After school there might be ballet or rugby and after that music lessons, extra maths or drama rehearsals. By the time they get home they’re exhausted – and homework hasn’t even been started yet! Extramural activities are part of your child’s school life, but how much is too much? We consulted experts on how to help your child find a healthy balance between after-school activities and free time.

The need for balance 

Extramural activities are beneficial, experts say. “Children exposed to various extramural activities learn new skills and discover new talents,” says Melissa Bothma, an educational psychologist in Cape Town.

“They learn social and problem-solving skills, teamwork and the rules of various games and sports. They also learn about their personal strengths and weaknesses.”

It’s important to find a balance between extramural activities and free time, which enables children to relax, have fun, learn social skills and use their imaginations. They also learn to keep themselves busy and this encourages them to think independently, says Cristine Scolari, a clinical psychologist in Bedfordview, Johannesburg.

But how do you know when your child is overloaded with extramural activities? “Be on the lookout for the following warning signs,” says Zandile Shabangu, an educational psychologist in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng:

  •  Your child is exhausted and regularly complains about being tired.
  • They suffer high stress levels. 
  • Their school marks drop.
  • They have physical symptoms such as frequent headaches and other pains. 
  • They struggle to handle everything or often miss scheduled activities. 
  • They’re anxious, depressed, withdrawn or irritable. 
  • Their eating and sleeping patterns change. 

Too young or too much?

There’s no specific age at which a child should start with extramural activities. “It depends on the child’s environment, temperament and family or school circumstances,” Scolari says.

Some nursery schools encourage their learners to take part in extramural activities while others don’t. A four-year-old girl might want to start doing ballet because her friends are doing it. Or a boy might want to be just like his older

brother and do karate.

Children between five and seven can take part in one or two activities a week, but the guideline differs from child to child, Scolari says. She warns that parents should make sure their children aren’t overloaded. Primary school children older than seven can take part in two or three extramural activities a week. High school learners can take part in extramural activities four to five times a week but parents must bear in mind that their academic workload is much heavier. Scolari says it’s difficult to say how many hours a week a high school learner should spend on extramural activities. “It’s often a good idea to talk to the teacher or headmaster about this. They can give guidelines on how much time a child in a particular grade should spend on homework.”

If your child says ‘enough!’ 

What do you do if your child no longer wants to take part in a particular extramural activity? After a month of playing rugby they might want to play hockey instead – and two months later they might prefer soccer.

Experts say you should talk to your children about their decision. Why do they want to give up an activity? Do they really hate rugby? If that’s the case don’t force them to continue playing it. Or is there a bully in the team who scares them? Try to find a solution to this problem.

“If parents sense a child wants to quit because they’d prefer to spend more time playing on PlayStation or because they’re lazy, they should encourage perseverance because generally activities aren’t fun all the time, just like life can’t be fun all the time,” Bothma says.

Parents shouldn’t worry if children drop certain activities as they get older. Teens usually have a better idea of who they are and what they’re interested in.

“They forgo other activities and choose to do only one or two select ones,” Bothma says.

Scolari says if your child refuses to take part in any extramural activity you should try to find out why. Is it a confidence issue?

Be careful not to push your own dreams and hopes on your child, she says.

“Sometimes children feel despondent because they believe they must play a certain sport even if they don’t enjoy it. Help your kids to find activities they like.”

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