Ask most parents and they’ll tell you that organizing a household full of family members and their various schedules can feel like swimming upstream. With a new year upon us, now’s the perfect time to take a step back and look at how things are running in your own home and why you may even need to slow things down.
Signs that kids are too busy
Sooner or later, kids who are too busy will begin to show signs. Every child is different, but overscheduled kids may:
- Feel tired, anxious or depressed
- Complain of headaches and stomachaches, which may be due to stress, poor eating habits, or lack of sleep
- Fall behind on their schoolwork, causing their grades to drop
Overscheduling can also take a toll on kids' friendships and social lives. Family life also can suffer — when one parent is driving to basketball practice and the other is carpooling to dance class, healthy meals together often take a backseat. As a result, some families rarely eat dinner as a family and may not take the extra time to stay connected. It's important for parents to step back and make sure that their kids aren't burning out. Below are a few ideas that may help decrease stress and help keep things running smoothly.
These tips may help with keeping the chaos under control
- Keep a family calendar. Basic paper wall calendars or a calendar app for your phone work well. Keeping one calendar where family members can note events that affect the entire household will keep everyone aware of what's next. You can use a different color pen for each family member, so it is easy to see who has activities which days.
- Hold family meetings. Hold a weekly meeting with all members of your household to review big events, check in with each other and make sure that everyone is ready for the week ahead. Keep this check in brief but do address issues that you expect to cause stress or anxiety. Most family meetings can be done in 10 to 15 minutes and everyone will be on the same page for the coming days. Many kids transition to activities better if they are aware of upcoming events.
- Plan your meals. Making a weekly meal plan means fewer last minute pre-dinner grocery store visits. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the week to plan your meals and then go to the grocery store or order your groceries online through a food delivery service. Try to include older kids in the meal planning.
- Use your lunch hour. Your kids aren't the only ones who need scheduling. Make your lunch break productive by paying bills, getting a haircut, running errands or working out. Taking this break in the middle of your day can mean crossing off those pesky to dos. And if you work out, it's a nice way to release some stress.
- Schedule yourself. Developing a routine for household jobs means they’ll get done on a more reliable schedule without the added guilt of a to-do list. By doing your laundry on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you’ll have a set time for necessary chores, which means fewer things will fall by the wayside.
- Ask for help. You can’t always do it all by yourself. If you can, find occasional help through neighbors, friends or family. If possible, hire an occasional house cleaning service and schedule walks for Fido. Carpool with others who are doing the same activities. It’s a great way for kids to bond and adults to help each other out.
- Find back up childcare. Sickness can arrive at the worst time. You and your partner might have busy weeks with major presentations and then your little one gets the sniffles or your sitter calls in sick. When you just can’t take time away from work, having great back-up childcare is a necessity.
- Use the internet when possible. You can do practically everything online from ordering groceries to scheduling appointments, so use the internet to your advantage.
- Organize, organize, organize. Keep an organized landing station at home so when you come home, you can quickly unload everyone’s belongings so they are ready for the morning. At the end of the day, switch out daily items like lunch boxes and dirty clothing. At the end of the week, update bags with clean clothing, water bottles and special items for the coming week. Have a basket for items that need to be returned, like library books.
- Work ahead. Try not to wait until the last minute. Get everything ready for the next day the night before. Pack lunches and bags for the next day or even the week ahead. Some people like to pack a few lunches and snacks so they only have to make lunches once or twice a week. Place important papers next to the front door so you don’t forget them. Pick out your children’s outfits the night before or even plan ahead by having them select their clothing for the week.
The key to managing a busy schedule is moderation and flexibility. Be sure to choose activities with a child's age, temperament, interests and abilities in mind. If something's too advanced, the experience is likely to be frustrating. If it isn't engaging, kids may be bored. Evaluate your family’s extracurricular activities to make sure they are having a positive impact on your child’s life. If an activity isn’t working out for your child or family, it’s okay to stop and try something else or try again another time. Above all, remember to spend time together and enjoy being a family.
Allyson S. Huggins, MD, is a mom of four kids and a provider with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics. Learn more about Dr. Huggins, the rest of the pediatric team and other healthy kids’ topics at kids.mountnittany.org.
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Town & Gown
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