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The Overscheduled Kid: EASY Method to Figure Out What Activities To Do

03/13/2015 03:11 pm ET | Updated Sep 15, 2015

Reader Unscheduled Mom writes:

What do you think about the trend of taking kids to lots of activities?  I have read about the importance of not over scheduling your child, and I would like your input.

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I'm not going to come down on this one way or the other, because some kids and families thrive with a lot of activity, and some don't.  For your unique situation, there is a great way to figure out what activities you should do with your kid.  It even comes with an easy acronym.  Remember my LMAO Parenting Technique?  I love acronyms.  Anyway, in this case, the acronym is: EASY.

E: Enrich.

Does this activity ENRICH the majority of family members' lives?  Note I did not say does it enrich the individual child.  Here is an example.

Madison loves horse backing riding.  To go, mom has to get off work early, which means she has to use flex time and go in early.  Madison's sister has to stay at afterschool care, where she does a terrible job at her homework and this means that later, Dad has to work with her individually so that Mom and Dad don't get to talk together after work.

In this scenario, unless Madison is literally Olympics-bound (or whatever the equivalent is for horseback riding), I say, like Elsa before me, let it go.  Everyone is suffering for one child to enjoy herself.  People can get behind this if the child seems to be so good at the activity that it would be a tragedy for her not to take it.  But use your objective hat here and not your adoring parent hat.  Like this one time at gymnastics I saw a child flipping and bouncing around like the next Nadia Comaneci.  This kid's mom should really keep her in gymnastics.  She would be pretty bitter as an adult, remembering how she was all set to be an awesome amazing gymnast and then her mom took her out of classes.  However, then there were my kids.  No Nadias.  So, if driving them to gymnastics had a significant negative impact on my life, I would streamline and dump gymnastics in a heartbeat.

Now picture if Madison loved gymnastics, Daddy got off work early to come watch her and pick her up, and Mommy could pick her younger daughter up for special time doing homework at Starbucks together.  Then, keep Madison in gymnastics forever, because the whole family is enriched.

Also, we took my kids to baby swim for years.  At first we loved it, my husband, Natalia, and me. Then we all four loved it a little less (because I started to find it difficult to take two kids, nurse when there, change two kids, all that).  Then when there were five of us, my dislike of spending every Saturday there and Natalia's insight that she wasn't very good (we forestalled that as long as we could but eventually my non-athletic genes emerged victorious) means that now we just swim during the summer like normal people.

A: Ask.  

Sometimes parents forget to actually ask their kids what activities are meaningful to them and which ones aren't. So I thought Clara liked gymnastics, then I asked her, and she said no.  So, after this session, she's stopping.  Remember, the cuter your kid looks doing an activity, the less they probably like it.  Murphy's Law of child activities.

10898100_10101734680578012_2108594007377688892_n of course i hate this. you had to buy me this special outfit for it.

S: Skip.

Does your child seem stressed or anxious at all?  Then start taking activities away one by one till you see a difference.  You can always add them back in.  Just skip a couple of weeks of each activity and see if it's better for your child and your overall family atmosphere.  Then you can make a better decision, because you have a comparison: weeks with the activities, and weeks without.

Y: Why. (Phonetic, leave me alone.)

Think about why your child is in all of her various activities, and make sure you are happy with the answer.  Make it a reason that you want your child to learn and to become part of his or her life philosophy.  Here are some psychologically healthy reasons for kids to be in activities:

- to socialize

- to work on developing a skill they are proud of

- to have fun

- to get some exercise

Here are some psychologically less healthy reasons:

- because you used to love it as a kid

- because Grandma said she'd pay for it

- because the other kids in class are doing it (this one is fine if you and your family also enjoy it, but it shouldn't be the stand alone reason, unless your child has a lot of difficulty making friends and this can help him or her with that)

- because you feel guilty for the amount of TV you let her watch the rest of the time.

Turn inward and do some real introspection about why your child is engaged in various activities, and your heart will show you the way.

There is a great deal of research on the importance of free play for children's minds and social skills.  So as long as your kid's choices aren't between sitting on the couch watching multiple hours of TV or dance class, then you might be doing her a favor by making playdates for her or letting her play with her siblings or neighbors rather than enrolling her in classes.

Great question, and thanks for writing in.  Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Loved Baby Swim Till I Didn't.

For more, visit Dr. Rodman at Dr. Psych Mom, on Facebook, and on Twitter @DrPsychMom.