Balance your child's schedule

Some children may be able to handle taking part in a few activities at one time. But some who are...

Some children may be able to handle taking part in a few activities at one time. But some who are over-programmed don't have time to engage in healthy, spontaneous play with peers. (Fotolia)

Jill Ellis, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Karen Try always wished she was a ballerina, with the straight posture, graceful walk and swan-like neck. The 53-year-old mom never took dance lessons as a child, but she wanted to offer that opportunity to her own daughter.

"I am clumsy and blamed my parents for not putting me in dance -- you can always spot a tall, sleek dancer. The way they walk, the great posture, the tilt of the head. So, at age 2, I enrolled my daughter, Emily, in ballet, but she was kind of clumsy like me and she didn't love it," says Try.

Likewise, Pasqualina Cardu wanted to offer her now-grown daughter creative and artistic outlets. But, like Emily, Lexi disliked ballet. However, she loved sports. "I wanted her to be exposed to a lot of different activities," says Cardu.

Cardu loved acting as a child, and now that she's a morning radio DJ on a station in London, Ont., that early training comes in handy.

"The arts are undervalued and can lead to so many wonderful opportunities, giving children life skills that are valued."

Both mothers introduced their daughters to myriad activities. That's important, according to Dr. Darlene Elliott-Faust, a clinical psychologist specializing in children and adolescents. She recommends checking out your municipality's selection of subsidized recreational activities.

"It's a great way of trying out a variety of activities very inexpensively and without long-term commitment. A child can try all kinds of activities, from ice skating to horseback riding."

But a child being enrolled in too many activities can be distracting. Dr. Elliott-Faust recommends that after a child has tried a few different possibilities over a period of time, he or she should settle on two at a time, one creative and one active, like sports or dance. That way the child is learning the importance of cerebral, as well as physical, pursuits. She clarifies that some children may be able to handle more activities but one pursuit at a time may be enough or too much for other children, depending on temperament.

The concept of balance needs to be carried over to a child's life in general, as well, says Elliott-Faust.

"This starts teaching them the balance between physical and mental health," she adds, "seeking early on to have a balance of good diet, exercise, time with friends and time alone."

Balance is the message of Caley Hartney, program manager for PHE (Physical Health Education) Canada. She emphasizes that kids who are over-programmed don't have time to engage in healthy, spontaneous play with peers. "Only 46% of Canada's youth get three or more hours of play a week. It's not just important for physical health, but it's also when they form relationships. Active play reinforces emotional health.

Canadian kids just want the freedom to throw open doors and play," she says.

Elliott-Faust speculates that parents who sign their kids up for too many activities may be motivated by their own desires to be high achievers.

"Be flexible and check in with your child, asking them if they are enjoying current activities."

Signs that a child may be over-committed, and therefore stressed, can include "a high level of emotional reactivity, being on edge, having trouble with all of it and being overwhelmed." She adds that they may not feel they can say, "I'm missing things with my friends" or "I don't want to do all these things."

While having a child who is talented and accomplished is gratifying to parents, the most important thing to remember is that exposing him or her to many types of activities during childhood is important, but it's also vital they have time to enjoy all aspects of childhood, including just being a kid.



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