When I was a Deputy Head and Class Teacher I used to watch as some children went from school to ballet, to  swimming, to horse riding, maths club, tap dancing or to a tutor without catching their breath.

They were over busy and some were over anxious and over stressed.

Of course it’s all about striking a balance but today I read with interest this article in the Courier Mail about children being too busy which  is making them anxious and stunting their development according to some experts.

“Children are going to school bleary-eyed as they try to fit in four or more scheduled activities every week.

Tiredness, anxiety disorders leading to depression and eating disorders, obesity, and a lack of initiative and creativity are the downsides to an over-scheduled life.

The Associate Professor of Education at QUT, Marilyn Campbell, said the two main factors driving over-scheduling were fear for children’s safety and desire to make successful kids.

Prof Campbell said “helicopter parenting” meant many parents favoured structured, adult-led activities because they would be sure of where their children were.

Children as young as 15 months are being enrolled in language classes, while Tiny Soccer has weekly classes for little ones.

“Many parents believe coaching at sport, extra school work, dance or whatever it is, is going to make their child learn better,” Ms Campbell said.

“They don’t see the value in free play.”

Free play promotes social skills, initiative and an ability to entertain themselves, she said.

Triple P Parenting Program founder Professor Matt Sanders said another downside to a packed schedule was parents ended up as taxi drivers.

“Many kids do benefit from these activities but they can be over-involved,” Prof Sanders, from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, said.

Parents unwittingly created stress because they were busy picking up and dropping off multiple children at events.

“And the other thing is a lot of these activities cost a lot, there’s uniforms and registration,” he said.

Dr Bob Jacobs from The Parenting Centre said activities were fine as long as they were child-driven.

“It’s important for parents to give the message that you accept them as who they are. If they are interested in something, great,” Dr Jacobs said.

“They don’t have to win … to get parents’ approval.”

But the Brockwell family, who work hard and play hard, dismiss worries that they are trying to squeeze in too much.

Through an organised effort of scheduling, calendar-keeping and constant communication, the family find time to work, go to school, play extra-curricular sports, have family meals and relax.

Children Samantha, 13, and Daniel, 6, are committed to sports such as soccer, netball, softball and AFL, as well as school work and homework, while dad Michael coaches soccer and works full time.

A typical week for the family leaves only brief moments to catch up and relax, but mum Cherie said the family maximised what time they did have.

“Sometimes you rant and rave and carry on and say ‘we need to stop all this because we don’t have any time for each other’,” she said.

“But on the other side, we’re not here for very long.”

Samantha, the busiest member of the family, participates in three sports, as well as singing at school, but her mum said she was sensible enough to know enough was enough.

“Samantha wanted to do a trial for the school team for netball. She thought about all the commitments that she does, and we all do. She … said she didn’t think we could fit it in,” Mrs Brockwell said.

Mrs Brockwell said she and her husband never forced their children to do anything, but encouraged involvement in team sports and activities because of the spirit it promoted.

“We’re of the opinion that we give them every opportunity that we can, but we have indicated to them that a team sport is about building community,” she said.

But mum Cherie said keeping such a tight rein on the family’s time can sometimes be a burden.

“Sometimes we feel that other things get in the way of our family time,” she said.”

How do you strike a balance ?

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About the author

Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the  famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.

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Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
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