Is your child too busy?

26 September 2014

Should you give your kids a break from extramural activities?

TODAY, children are almost as busy as their parents.

After school there may be ballet or soccer, and after that music lessons, extra maths lessons or drama rehearsals.

By the time they get home they’re exhausted – and they still have plenty of homework to do. Extramural activities are part of your child’s school life – but how much is too much? We consulted experts on how to help your children find a healthy balance between afterschool activities and free time.

Is your child too busy?

Experts say extramural activities are beneficial.

“Children exposed to various extramural activities learn new skills and discover new talents,” says Melissa Bothma, an educational psychologist from Cape Town.

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

It’s important to find a balance between free time and extramural activities. Free time enables children to relax, have fun, learn social skills and use their imaginations.

Cristine Scolari, a clinical psychologist from Bedfordview, Johannesburg, says they also learn to keep themselves busy and this encourages them to think independently. But how do you know when your children are overloaded with extramural activities?

“Be on the lookout for the following danger signs,” says educational psychologist Zandile Shabangu from Vanderbijlpark:

- Your children are exhausted and regularly complain they’re tired.

- They suffer high stress levels.

- Their school marks drop.

- They have physical symptoms such as regular headaches and other pains.

- They struggle to handle everything or regularly miss scheduled activities.

- They’re anxious, depressed, withdrawn or irritable.

- Their eating and sleeping patterns drastically change.

Too young or too much?

There’s no specific age at which children should start with extramural activities.

“It depends on the child’s environment, temperament and family or school circumstances,” says Scolari.

Some nursery schools encourage their learners to take part in extramural activities and others don’t. A four-year-old girl might want to start doing ballet because her friends are doing it.

Or a boy may 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, says Scolari.

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 be spending on extramural activities.

“It’s often a good idea to talk to the teacher or headmaster about this,” she says.

“They can give guidelines on how much time a child in a particular grade should be spending on their homework.”

If your child says ‘enough!’

What do you do if your children no longer want to take part in a particular extramural activity? After a month of playing rugby they may want to play hockey instead – and two months later they might prefer karate. Experts say you should talk to your children about their decision.

Why do they want to give up a sport? Do they really hate soccer?

If that’s the case, don’t force them to continue to play it. Or is there a bully in the team who’s frightening them?

Try to find a solution.

“If a parent senses her children want to quit because they’d prefer to spend more time playing on PlayStation or because they’re lazy, she should encourage perseverance because generally activities aren’t fun all the time, just like life can’t be fun all the time,” Bothma advises parents.

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 activities,” says Bothma.

Scolari says if your children refuse 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 dreams and hopes onto your child, she says.

“Sometimes children feel despondent because they believe they must play a certain sport even if they’re not interested in it.

- Petro-Anne Vlok

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