No. 116; December 2014
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Parents may wonder how much afterschool activity is right for their child. Developing interests outside of school such as arts, music, and sports can help a child learn and grow. Organized activities can help build a child’s skills, self-esteem, and ability to get along with others. Studies show that they can also enhance brain development and physical well-being. However, having some free time is also important because it can allow time for kids to play, use their imagination, and relax. Research also demonstrates that play, in particular, helps children learn how to solve problems, identify interests, and work with others.

Deciding which and how many afterschool activities are appropriate for a particular child can be challenging. Here are some suggestions to help find the right balance:

  • Recognize that all children are different. Consider each child’s needs, skills, and interests when choosing activities.
  • Encourage children to explore a variety of activities to find what they enjoy.
  • Make sure your child has enough unstructured time to play, read a book or be with friends.
  • Explore the range of activities available in your community. Check with your local school, community center, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, or religious organizations.
  • Be careful about imposing your own wishes on your child. Just because you played piano or soccer does not mean it is right for your son or daughter.
  • Be open-minded. Your child may choose activities that are unfamiliar to you.
  • Encourage your child to let you know when there is too much going on and they just need a break.
  • If your child repeatedly resists an activity, talk to them about their thoughts and feelings. Is this the right activity or the right amount for them?

Some children and teens are overscheduled. Too many commitments can interfere with school work, family time and self-directed interests. Early warning signs that a child may be too busy or feeling overwhelmed include:

  • Making excuses or refusing to go to the activity
  • Feeling over-tired or not having enough time to sleep
  • Having problems with organization or meeting deadlines
  • Declining school grades
  • Unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Increased anxiety

Children and teens can be under-scheduled. Some children are good at managing their free time and are self-directed. For others, having too much free time can cause problems such as:

  • Isolation
  • Boredom
  • Excess screen time
  • Lack of physical activity or obesity

Sometimes children need help from parents and other adults to figure out which afterschool activities are a good fit for them. It is also important for children to learn how to be happy and manage their time alone. However, children who choose to spend too much time by themselves may be depressed or anxious.

Parents who have questions or concerns about their child’s activity, schedule, or mood should talk to their pediatrician or family physician and ask for a referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional.

Most kids like to be active and busy. Finding the right balance between organized activity and free time can help promote social and emotional growth and development.


For additional information, see Facts for Families:
#33 Conduct Disorder
#47 The Anxious Child
#56 Parenting: Preparing for Adolescence
#61 Children and Sports
#66 Helping Teenagers with Stress
#100 Children and Social Networking



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