The Competent Parent: Activity Overload


Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Activity Overload

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My 10-year-old son has so much going on. Because he is dyslexic, he sees a tutor once a week after school. He also has piano lessons every week and is in Cub Scouts (meets every other week). Now he is head-over-heels for archery and wants to join the local archery club (monthly), and a robotics club just formed in our area that he is super excited about (meets every other week). While I think all these things are great and will benefit him, it’s a lot going on. I can’t see what we could drop to add these new activities, but I don’t want to disappoint my son or discourage his interests.

His Manager

Dear Manager,

That’s a lot to manage—for him and for you. How much time does he need for schoolwork? Is he rushed through meals and/or short on sleep? How often does he get to play with friends? Does he have enough time to play alone, read, do chores alone, and do chores with a parent? Adding more “musts” to the schedule cuts out time he’s available to others and time to follow his own thoughts and moods. A busy after-school schedule also requires adult time for transportation, unless some of these activities are within walking/biking distance.

Depending on his personality, a rigid schedule of activities can either add stress or reduce stress. By age 10, you probably have a good idea of which direction works best for him. And depending on your commitment to support each activity, there is a limit as to how much of your time can be set aside for them.

Self-esteem is something to consider for the child who, compared to his classmates, has to put forth extra effort to be successful with schoolwork. If the tutoring has this under control, it’s not so much an issue. But the child who struggles each day at school, and with schoolwork at home, certainly benefits from enjoying recreational activities that support his feeling successful with solving problems in his own way and gaining skills at his own pace.

Another important factor is his sociability. There are children who make friends wherever they find themselves—and that’s not just being friendly, but truly engaging in the give and take required to have a lasting, mutually fulfilling friendship. This can occur both in the totally unstructured friendship that can develop with a neighbor, or the regularly scheduled interactions two children have through scouts, sports, etc. If he does not have at least one good friend, look for candidates in the neighborhood, his scout troop, or school—and, if a bosom buddy is not there, consider adding an activity to widen the pool. Sometimes adults focus too much on scheduled activities—perhaps afraid their child might “miss out” on a life-enriching hobby or college-application padding sport/art/community service, and not enough on the critical childhood experience of learning to sustain the ups and downs of a relationship.

Before you sign yourselves up for yet another commitment, consider this compromise: Use archery or robotics as the backdrop for supporting a friendship. You (and perhaps the other child’s parents) provide resources for the children to gain knowledge and experiences as long and as far as they are interested. This could include the monthly/biweekly commitment or not. And if not, remind your son (and yourself) that school is his main job right now, and too many other things on the schedule make it harder to do that job well. With the school year just about at its midpoint, this is a good time to start looking into scheduled activities offered in the lazier days of summer.

Dr. Debbie

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]