Expert warns children are suffering 'burnout' from too many activities and sports
A subject close to my heart.
Schools are just back, and in the couple of weeks that have passed, I must have had at least ten conversations with other school parents about how stressful it is to manage the logistics of all their children's activities.
From soccer to rugby, hockey, ballet, piano, guitar, scouts, GAA, it seems to me most families' afternoons and weekends are chock-a-block with activities, where there is precious little time to just relax, play and spend time together as a family.
I don't know if it is my Scandinavian upbringing, but while I absolutely think it is excellent for children to play sports or an instrument or even both, I also think there is so much value in free play, outdoor time, time spent in nature and also just time spent as a family at home, relaxing.
Free play and just being outside, running around parks or doing a hike or just letting kids be kids and themselves come up with games and activities doesn't really seem to be the done thing here – and I can't help but wonder if this really is what is best for children?
We need to entertain our kids less
Experts have for a long time now expressed concern that parents spend far too much time and effort entertaining their kids and keeping them busy and occupied every second of every day.
Speaking to Mother.ly, anthropologist Dr. David Lancy from Utah State University believes that "Parents have taken on all these extra obligations because someone has convinced [them] that they are essential for optimizing a child." But kids need surprisingly little interference from adults, observes Dr Lancy, adding, "They are born knowing how to create their own toys, design their own games and settle their own arguments."
And being involved every minute of your kids' day doesn't leave much room for self-discovery. Dr Lancy states, "[W]ith too much instruction, children miss out on the opportunity to learn how to learn through self-exploration and observation." He believes this is a valuable skill that will help them adapt to challenges in school and give them an edge in life.
Just imagine – what if we didn't drive ourselves around the bend trying to make sure our kids are entertained and occupied every second of every day...? What if we just let them be bored? Let them relax? Let them invent games and come up with adventures and entertain themselves – you know, kind of like we did when we were kids?
Risk of burnout from too many after-school activities
I am not the only one feeling like many Irish children are being spread far too thin with activities and sports.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, psychotherapist and author Stella O'Malley recently explained that parents really should be more mindful of just how much activity their children get.
"When they get really cranky and touchy, it's worth looking at the child's actual life and ask: 'Might they be over-scheduled? Because there's a hell of a lot of offers of activity", O'Malley said.
"You can spiral when you're exhausted - and you don't know it's the exhaustion. You just think everything is terrible."
The psychotherapist encourages parents to "pull back a bit" and not feel the need to send their children to every activity.
And there is a real difference between burnout and laziness, O'Malley reveals.
"Genuine burnout is kind of a shutdown," she explains.
"But when a child is just overtired ... that is something you could see in their face, and in their physical disposition."
Laziness, according to Ms O'Malley, is linked to a lack of motivation.
"I think it's more interesting to figure out why are they lazy. Why are they unmotivated? Why are they disengaged?"
Do YOU feel under pressure to enrol your children in several sports and after-school activities? Let us know in the comments.