Raise your hands if you may have an over-scheduled child.
It’s not a judgment or a criticism. I get it — it happens. Our kids have lots of interests, their clubs or sports or lessons require big commitments, or maybe we just really need the kids scheduled so we can earn a living.
But as our kids wind down the school year, it’s the perfect time to take a minute and evaluate the activities they’re participating in. Not just for them — but for you! Because the one word most moms I know would use to describe themselves right now is frazzled.
Yes, every activity is fun and educational and empowering and encourages their passions. But is the whole family losing their minds over the commitment? Then it’s time to take stock.
This morning, my friend Ashley, whose intentional parenting I really admire, sent me a photo of a survey she had her daughter take about over-scheduling. I knew instantly that I had to share it here. Because wow, my mind was blown.
The seven questions are so simple, but they really will help your child see clearly which activities are helping them thrive, and which they’re just kind of enjoying — maybe. You may even be shocked at the results.
So sit down with your kid, go through the results together, and it may help you make some great decisions about the upcoming school year.
Note: For the sake of brevity, the wording here is uses a lot of sports and arts terminology, but we know kids participate in all kinds of activities. Adapt them in a way that makes sense for your family.
Question 1: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much fun do you have at games or performances?
Performances, games, and competitions are generally your kid’s chance to shine. But do they love it? Or do they hate the spotlight being on them? This question can help you determine whether a competitive league is best for your soccer-loving kid, as opposed to some private or group lessons that avoid the pressure of performance.
Or maybe your child likes what they get out of art classes, a First LEGO League club, or music lessons, but the competitions at the end of each term are just not enjoyable. This question can really help you find the best option for your child.
We know that not every child needs a trophy — but maybe not every child even needs to compete for one.
Question 2: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much fun to you have at practice?
On the other hand, if your kid is all about the games or the competition, but hates the practices, you can probably adjust their schedule — like skipping a travel sports team, which saves both time and money. Or if your kid doesn’t enjoy scout meetings but loves the campouts, then embrace that passion — let go of your dreams of having an Eagle scout in the family, and just enjoy some time out in nature together.
Question 3: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much value do you feel you add to the group?
This is a chance for your child to honestly evaluate their own skill level, and also a chance for you to recognize whether this is an activity that fills their cup or drains it.
If your child has a coach, teacher, or tutor who is sucking the life out of them by making them feel they’re not valued, that’s worth recognizing so you can take steps to fix it, or find a more enjoyable activity.
Question 4: On a scale of 1 to 10, how meaningful are the friendships you’ve formed at this activity?
Friendships are an important part of group activities for kids, like teams, dance classes, and clubs. As far as my own kids, we’ve happily driven them to certain activities solely because of the solid friendships they’ve developed there. In other cases, we’ve intentionally chosen to switch up the activity year to year, so they can break out of their school social circle and make some new friends.
Question 5: On a scale of 1 to 10, how accomplished do you feel when you leave this activity?
Has your child learned something new? Are they growing as a person? Is it challenging? Is it deflating? Or maybe, is it boosting their ego in a bad way?
We all want our kids to feel accomplished. You probably don’t want them to be the worst (so to speak) kid in a group, but sometimes you don’t want to be the best, either. In fact, I know parents who have requested that a league intentionally place their all-star kid on a losing team, so he’d learn humility. And there are certainly parents who move their kids to more advanced clubs, teams, or lessons so that they can grow a little more and get out of their comfort zone.
(And yes, this survey is for your kid, but questions like this one will help you assess what you want for your kid when they participate in extra-curricular activities in the first place.)
Question 6: On a scale of 1 to 10, how often do you think about this activity and how you might be able to contribute more, or improve in your free time?
Sometimes knowing an over-scheduled child’s real passsions helps determine where their limited time is best spent. If they say they love art but never seem to think about picking up a paintbrush or stylus in their free time without being asked — that’s a good thing to be aware of. Maybe it’s you who’s pushing for those art classes; talent doesn’t always equal interest.
My own daughter is a self-declared “sporty girl” who’s played basketball since kindergarten, and this year, she tried dance for the first time since she was a toddler. Right now, I see that 95% of her free time is spent practicing her routines, not her free throws. That observation is giving us both a lot of insight about her priorities.
Question 7: What are the top three things you like about this activity?
Let’s just say that if your kid cites “snack time” at the end of soccer practice as a favorite thing, it might be time to let that one go.
On the other hand, if they add numbers 4, 5, and 6 to a list of top things they like about coding club, then maybe that’s one to prioritize.
If you’re a super-type-A person like me (I admit it!), type the questions up and have your child fill out the answers. Then talk through the results together.
A low number for any one answer doesn’t mean you have to ditch that activity; it just might be time to freshen it up or make some changes. Maybe it’s time for a new coach. Maybe the activity is right but the club is wrong. Maybe private lessons would be better than group lessons — or vice versa. Or perhaps your child would enjoy the activity more if you took a less-rigorous approach that gives you more free time to spend together as a family.
There’s no easy or right answer to dealing with over-scheduled kids, but I hope these questions help jumpstart some great discussions so you can all be more intentional about how you spend your time.
And that means you too, you hockey-watching, theater-costume-sewing, competition-attending, campout-chaperoning, non-stop-carpooling, totally supportive parents.