After school activities: The over scheduled child.

Childhood is not a race

Childhood is not a race

Working with children takes every ounce of energy I have and then some, with possibly a glass of red at the end of the day. Their enthusiasm never ceases to bring me right into their moment, of course it helps that my career is centred around children and their behaviour. After twenty years I still have nothing concrete to give you, no magic answers. I see patterns, I see uniqueness and I see endless possibilities with each and every child. It all takes; time, patience, tears, laughter and at times a hell of a lot of support. Sometimes the answer is simple, sometimes it is not so simple but we get there with lots of thinking, often outside the box.

So, after twenty years one pattern I have really noticed and saddens me to say is on the rise is that children as young as four are showing signs of stress. Stress that is debilitating in exactly the same way it is with us grownups. The stress the children are demonstrating is showing up and reflected in their behaviour. Presenting itself in different ways in their behaviour from being exhausted at school, over emotional, meltdowns and general ‘misbehaviour’. Now, still taking into account a child’s individuality in that one child may cope really well with four after school activities a week, not all will, this is not the so-called ‘norm’. In saying that, the new ‘norm’ that I am seeing at work daily is that activities after school are increasing for each individual child. Some children are not coping with so much on their plate. I am loathed to subject children to labels, I see the child. If they have a diagnosis, their diagnosis gives me some ideas of how to assist them but I never lose sight of the inner child. For me to announce that children are stressed is a big deal. Children should not be portraying levels of stress due to over commitments.

“I’d like to make an appointment for you to see my 6-year-old daughter” “Sure I can come next Wednesday at 4pm” “Oh we can’t do Wednesday she’s swimming, Thursday she does gymnastics, Monday she has keyboard and dance and on Tuesdays and Saturdays she does netball” I feel the exhaustion for the child and the parent that is ferrying this child around. Observing children is a major part of what I do, I watch them at school and at their after school activities. The tears and the meltdowns in some activities demonstrates that the child is not that keen on said activity whether it’s tiredness, lack of interest or they simply do not enjoy it. Some lessons may run smoothly with them actively participating but by observing their general demeanour you can see that their mind is somewhere else.

I am all for children to have interests, fun, competitions, learning through play but not at the level where it becomes detrimental to the child. The irony of getting your child up a 5.30 am for a relaxing and mindful yoga lesson 5 times a week before school to have them dosing at their desk by 10am is some what losing the point of the mindful yoga class.

It is almost at the point where it sounds at times like a bragging right, “my son does this, that, this and that and something else and he is positively thriving.” I beg to differ at how much the child is actually thriving and  from experience pessimistically await the  six-year-old to reach burn out. It concerns me too how the parents are feeling and coping with all this manic driving around after school.

Children need stimulating; their imaginations, curiosity and creativity are such a major part of them understanding the world around them and most are quite capable of doing this when given half the chance, it is ok to have moments of nothingness. Nothing planned, nothing structured. When assessing a child an area I look at is the amount of time the parents manage as one to one with the child. Now I am not looking for large blocks of quality time basically anything from 10 minutes of one to one time a day is fantastic. Spending time at said after school activities I do not include as one to one time as the child is actively involved in the activity. “I spend 8 hours a week driving and watching them participate, therefore I spend a lot of time with them” is not the same as 10 minutes of down time with a child, even your chats in the car are not 100% quality time to its full extent as you are driving.

If you can picture how well a child keeps it together at school for over six hours in a structured environment, which I find incredible, plus the amount of homework (another blog post next week) they will also need unstructured time to just be. To just be a child.

From my Facebook wall ” From the age of six I did choir outside school with a million performances etc.. music, swimming, netball and athletics. By high school I had 1 extra curriculum commitment everyday plus sport. Everyone wondered why my grades were dropping. I struggled with the added pressure of doing well at school. I had no time for friends at all”

From a teacher “As a teacher I see the stress commitments creates on the student”

As with everything in life and child behaviour I do take into account the uniqueness of each child and yes some children do cope phenomenally well with their outside school activities and have no issues at all, unfortunately this does not apply to every child. Stepping back and observing a family that had called regarding their daughters; identical twin sisters that were both doing exactly the same amount of after school activities, one was great with it, no issues at all. The other was struggling and also fearful that she was not keeping up with her sister. Because one friend participates in 5 activities and is ok does not necessarily mean your child will be ok. With the families and children I work with when the concerns are behavioural sometimes scaling back on the after/before school activities makes a big difference.

I also take into account after spending time with the child and bonding whether the child is actually afraid to say “I don’t want to do this anymore”. We all have dreams for our children, we all want the best, we want them to have opportunities to flourish, but, it is crucial to remember the child too, their dreams are not our dreams and not every waking moment has to be filled with something for them to do.


Similar yet unique

Similar yet unique

 After school activities: What are the signs that it is too much

Chat with their teacher to see if are they managing in class

Over tired yet having difficulty getting to sleep

Increase in meltdowns, tantrums at home, school or at the actual activity

Increase in crying

Reoccurring ‘tummy aches and headache”

Getting sick quite often or feeling under the weather

Not seeing friends outside school for catchups

Not wanting to practice said activity at home

Increase in arguments (especially the day prior or the actual day of the activity)

Struggling to complete homework tasks due to lack of time

Too tired in the morning

Sleeping in the car on the way to the activity

Their grades are dropping

They look anxious, stressed and worried

You are stressed, anxious and worried.

Not being able to have family dinners due to said amount of activities

Each child is unique, some will cope well and others will not so it’s ok to scale back.

How many activities does your child do? How many activities did you do?





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Nathalie Brown

Child Behaviour Consultant at Easy Peasy Kids
Child Behaviourist and researcher. Creator of "Less tantrums. More smiles". I look at the bigger picture and think outside the box when working with children and their behaviour. Their world is different. As adults we sometimes forget this. Happiness Creator in my spare time. Eater of chocolate and cake.

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  1. This is so important to remember. It’s one of those things on my list of “I know this but it’s so good to be reminded by someone outside of myself/my situation.”

    I’ve been vigilant with watching my daughter and how much she does after school. She has three things a week but refuses to give anything up! So far, so good 18 months in… She wanted to add a fourth but we said absolutely no way unless something else goes – helping her to see that she needs to keep at least two nights free. We are completely activity-free on weekends as well which has helped immensely (we shifted her Saturday morning swimming to a weeknight in kinder and it has made a big difference to our unstructured/down-time as a family).

  2. Yes to infinity.
    I was one of those parents (not extreme) who wanted the boys to do lots of activities after school. I learned pretty early on that it wasn’t going to work. Scouts and Cubs is now all they do (ticks all the boxes, social AND active) and we do swimming lessons in the holidays. It works for us. But as for homework….GRRR.

    • It really starts to take its toll on some kids and even the parents. The homework post will be up soonish (That’s Nathalie’s soonish hopefully next week)

  3. traceyb65 says

    oh Natalie, what timely words … my 13yo boy has been attending counselling to help with depression associated with both post-glandular fever syndrome and bullying at highschool (tho the bullying is nothing new). the first thing the counsellor asked was about his sleep. i looked at him carefully and noted the dark shadows under his eyes. then she asked how often he did something where he felt totally relaxed and happy … no answer. i always considered myself careful about monitoring activities, but sadly, what once gave him joy is now draining him. this is a major wakeup call and i can only encourage other parents to take the time to ask the questions. xt ps. Caroline, great idea to limit swim classes to holidays!

    • So sorry to hear about the bullying, let me know if I can help in anyway. Keep a look out for Colin wee from super parents who launches on 3rd July a series of bullying posts to assist parents and their children. I think we need to allow times where the option to go or not to go to an activity is available. It’s important kids are heard on how they feel about their activities. Like I said each child is so very different. If you’d like to chat I’d me more than happy x

  4. Wonderful article! As a natural pattern finder as well as someone who works with emotions and is a mum, I see obviously stressed children a lot when I am doing reading with my daughter’s class and helping out at my son’s kinder. These children are only 3-6 years old. I’m not sure how much of it relates to activities, but things like mum and dad having relationship issues, an anxious parent, a new baby in the house, and even just starting school can stress out a child. They are far more sensitive than we realise. And teachers don’t have the capacity to help them with this. So thank you for sharing this message to encourage more focus on reducing stress for our kids with present and attentive adults and time to be themselves.

    • Kelly you are so correct in stating the other factors that cause stress in children another area I factor in when looking at a child’s behaviour not just the activities they undertake. There is always a bigger picture to the puzzle I’m trying to figure out. In such a busy loud world we seem to get caught up and not see the child’s emotions or spend time speaking about how we feel. Emotional intelligence is so very important. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. Claire says

    This was really interesting to read for me at the moment as I am considering wether or not to carry on with an activity for my son in September. Have had a few discussions with other mums about after school and weekend activities. Something else to factor in is siblings (younger ones especially) who can also bear the brunt of all the running around dropping older siblings off or waiting around for them at times when they would rather be at home pottering.

    • Yes that too when the siblings are also taken along even though they may not be participating like you say they are bearing the brunt and all the running around. I love pottering 🙂

  6. I could not agree more with this, Nathalie. It’s a fine line to walk between letting kids try things and explore interests, and keeping enough time and space for just relaxing and being. My three girls all do swimming lessons on Saturday mornings at the same time, and usually we make that a family activity, with extra playtime at the pool afterwards. Other than swimming, I’ve limited the school-aged children to one sport and one other activity apiece. One does ballet, the other gymnastics. The preschooler also does gymnastics at the same time as the 8 year old, which means we are only out at activities two nights a week – Mondays and Fridays. The two schoolkids also do music but we’ve been able to combine that as parent-and-child time, as my husband learns guitar with the 10 year old and I learn piano with the 8 year old. That makes it fun and a bit special for each kid as they get an individual activity with a parent as well as their instrument time.

    Having the three nights in the middle of the week where we can go to the library or the park, they can have friends over, they can get homework done, we can bake cookies, we can chill and read / relax or even watch a little TV, really helps their equilibrium (and mine).

  7. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. As a child, I just came home from school and just… played. And I loved it. That is what my child at school does too. One swimming lesson a week (which I reluctantly started at six years. not six months, feeling like the only mother in the world not doing toddler swimming, toddler music, toddler dance, toddler gym…!), then the six other days of the week she just plays. Plenty of time for running around on a schedule when she is older. Thank you for making me feel that I am, in fact, not depriving my children of anything by not doing anything.

  8. Hi lovely Nathalie. I think it’s so important for my kids to have HEAPS of free time. We try to have just one activity per week per child (3 boys.) The only problem I find now is that I have to manage that free time…making sure that it is not spent in front of screen. Sometimes I hear them inventing games, stories, and having fun outside (yes, lots of mess, but we try to deal with it!) Other times I feel like I’m handling a stream of demands to play Minecraft/iPad etc etc.
    I think I was very fortunate to have lots of unscheduled time as a kid. I hope I can provide the same to mine. I also hope that I can also give my kids lots of opportunities to play and learn in that unscheduled time…I’d love to see a follow up post on how to make the most of ‘free time’, such as how to create interesting play areas for different age groups etc. Thanks as always for your insights and your dedication xx

    • Ah the mine craft battle is here too. I’ll take up your request for a follow up post on how I’ve finally got a handle of it here with my Mr 8. and with the kids I work with.I’m not against Minecraft I actually think it’s one of the better game platforms for thinking and creativity, like you said its about redirecting the creativity. Mess is good, it clears up eventually. xx

  9. Always on the money Nat! Too many kids over tired and over stressed because they are over scheduled.
    Great post

  10. A fabulous article as always Nathalie. I’m so sick of people I work with telling me, “Wait until you have the kids in sport and blah blah every night of the week! Then it won’t be so easy.” I don’t WANT my boys in sports/blah blah every night of the week. As you know, we tried our now Mr 4.5 in swimming and dancing/singing lessons but he wasn’t very keen on waiting his turn or doing the structured “thing” they wanted of him at the time, much preferring to free form play. On your advice we stopped and he’s been asking to go back. We will give him an opportunity to try a few things and see what he enjoys and I think he may respond to the structure after being in kindy for almost a year now and responding well to that. I just wish there was more of an option to, “try before you buy” than there is. Trial classes aren’t the go around here it seems. x

    • Oh Cat some times just a break from it all does see them want to return but the key is they return happy because they so really want to do it now or for a while anyway. I find you might need to ask in a certain way for a trial class or only offer to pay cash for a month of trialling. Give them my number. I’m happy to have a go. xx

  11. Excellent post and insights. I was a super active child with lots of commitments and responsibilities. Last year of high school my mom freaked out and with my teachers limited me to just two activities. At uni l did the same thing and now as a parent l see myself again striving, over achieving to make it all happen. Not good! What l would like to add to the discussion is this: when l divorced last year l made a conscious decision to have the children (then 6 and 4.5) take part in only one activity, and the same one at that. What with visits to dad and a new house to make into a home, l feel our free time, down time, and spontaneous time is much more important. Weekends are split also so it’s easier on all to just arrange friends over, lounge picnics, craft time, park visits and friend meet ups. Developmentally, l believe they first need to construct their social worlds and then master a sport or other activity. As an avid sports player, l believe in what athletics have to offer, but mental comfort first. Maybe l will start to apply all this toyself and slow down a bit too 🙂

  12. My way of thinking about this subject has always been in line with everything you have said in this post.

    My son does guitar and soccer, my daughter does ballet and she’ll pick up piano next term (I recently dropped swimming lessons because it’s too cold now and with the short days it really does feel like it takes too much time.)

    Let me tell you that I am in the minority at our school. It really does seem to be a competition to see who can fit in the most activities. Our school is in an affluent part of Sydney and almost all the kids are on various private school waiting lists. It seems as though if your child isn’t doing 2-3 sports, learning two instruments and is in a children’s choir you don’t have enough ways to show how talented and well rounded your child is. I despise that my decision to keep it low key for my kids might be to their future detriment in getting into schools.

    The school doesn’t help either. They are constantly sending home notes about activities in the school holidays. Parents chat at pick up about art classes, craft workshops, sport days and soccer camps that will fill their childrens’ holidays.

    There’s one mum who has twin boys who are rather lively. She’s got them in an activity every day of the week and on some afternoons there are two consecutive places. She claims that it’s the only way to save her sanity, that the activities wear them out and it leads to better behaviour at home.

    I’m so confused. I know deep down in my heart that what I’m doing is right, but there is so much external pressure to keep up with the joneses.

    • Keep following your heart, there will always be pressure and I really think that children don’t need anymore pressure. I hope that schools don’t see less activities as detriment, kids need time to be kids. Thanks for reading and for being so honest.

  13. What are your thoughts on children in childcare? Fulltime that is.

  14. I am so glad to hear you saying this. I am from Asia and the.competition to succeed here is all time high. I have encountered parents who believe in the ‘make or break’. Ie the pressure kids as young as 6 to many kinds of tuition and no.park time daily but this child performs well in school. I, on the other hand, don’t even pressure my children to study. All the their homework and get loads of play time. Am I taking it too lightly?

  15. This is a topic that is near to my heart.

    .. Thank you! Where are your contact details though?
    Tobias recently posted…TobiasMy Profile

  16. Lovely post Nathalie. Several years ago I fell into the trap of signing my kids up for too many activities. Where I was living in London there was an incredibly array of choice and I wanted my boys to get to experience all of these great things. But then one day it hit me. There was no after school club for what I wanted them to learn the most: caring for their community, their family and the world.

    I had a eureka moment and decided to create our own club (with just my two boys and I as members!) We called it Special Day and once a week they came home from school and I’d have a theme. One week we’d focus on Community and go out and collect litter from local parks or bake banana bread for our elderly neighbour. Another week we’d focus on Family and write cards and draw pictures for grandparents. To help them feel connected the World we sponsored a child in Africa and sent her drawings and messages about our life and eagerly awaited hers in return.

    It beat driving them around to yet one more club (and sitting around with the other mothers complaining about it)! And it’s something that has shaped them forever.

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