“Wait, what time does practice start?”

How To Avoid Overscheduling Our Children

| By Jillian Quilty, LCSW

As a new school year begins, it can often feel as though our schedules become overloaded with more activities and less free time. Most parents have great intentions behind keeping their children engaged in extracurricular activities. Parents want their children to have the opportunity to try new things and look back on their childhood positively. Extracurricular activities can also improve confidence, provide children with the opportunity to develop social skills, and promote a sense of belonging. 

However, it is also important to take into account the benefits unstructured activities can have on children. Free time in the day can give children the chance to utilize their imaginations to create new things. It can also assist them in developing skills related to cooperation, cognitive flexibility, communication, and problem solving.  Finding the right balance for children between being overscheduled and having too much free time can feel overwhelming for parents. While every child is different, parents can take steps to find the best fit for their children. 

Check in with Your Children and Yourself

Look for signs. Children who feel overwhelmed by the number of activities they are involved in may become irritable or have other changes in mood. They may have less motivation or interest in activities due to having less time to regulate or process their thoughts and emotions in between activities. Stress from too many activities can impact sleep habits as well as academic performance.  

Ask your children how they feel. How do they feel when they are at each activity? How do they feel when they get home at the end of the day? What do they like about each activity? What would they change about their day if they could? 

Check in with yourself. How do you feel at the end of the day? Has coordinating schedules become a source of stress for you?

Utilize the Calendar to Your Advantage

When you look at your child’s schedule for the week, are there any opportunities for free time? Sometimes we have to utilize a calendar to schedule free time and that is acceptable.

One concern I often hear from parents is related to the fear that giving children free time will mean they utilize the time to play video games or will ask for more screen time. Free time does not automatically have to mean more screen time. Limits can continue to be set surrounding the amount of daily screen time given to a child. Creating a list of alternative activities can remind children there are other options. Children can be involved in creating the list and it should be placed in a location they can easily access it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

Saying yes to every activity a child wants to participate in, may not be realistic. Saying no can teach children to identify which activities they get the most from. It is also a great way to communicate lessons surrounding boundary setting and prioritizing mental health.

Keeping commitments is important, but we should also monitor any unhelpful thoughts patterns that may emerge in us or in children surrounding the topic.

I have heard from several clients recently that they have difficulty taking a day off from school or missing sports practice when they are not feeling well.

They experience unhelpful thought patterns surrounding how others will view their commitment level to the activity.  They then have to spend time challenging and reframing the idea that their health is not as important as how others view them.


Challenge Your Mindset

Take some time and think about why your current schedule looks the way it does. Do you notice  any thought patterns surrounding the benefits of keeping your children’s calendar full?

The next step to changing your mindset is to ask yourself a few questions. 

  1. Is this thought helpful? 
  2. Is this thought true? 

If the answer is no to either of these questions, take some time and think about ways to adjust the thought to make it more accurate or helpful to your life.

For example, someone may notice a thought like this: “I used the same schedule for my oldest child and it worked great for them.”

They realize that although the thought can be true at times, it is not always helpful and may not apply to all children. They can practice reframing the thought to something more accurate such as: “Every child is different and needs a different balance between free time and extracurricular activities.” 

If you are feeling like you could use some extra help with assisting your children in managing stress, prioritizing their mental health, or just having a safe space to talk, don’t hesitate to reach out. A licensed mental health professional will work with you and your children to help identify the best plan for your family. 


Jillian enjoys spending time with her family. She loves trivia, listening to podcasts, and traveling. Jillian is a dedicated psychotherapist. She enjoys learning about new and effective ways to help the clients she serves in meeting their goals.

EWC has locations in Manalapan and Shrewsbury, NJ, and accepts a variety of insurances.

Check out Jillian’s professional bio here!

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