The school bell rings marking the end of the school day. Or is it? These days, children tend to linger (or sometimes rush off elsewhere) doing a variety of extra mural activities – there are seemingly no limits to the variety of choices available.

I’m sure at your child/children’s school you also have the carpark “buzz”. Moms (and sometimes dads) talking about Johnny and Mary’s extra mural activities. By the time you leave you are often feeling guilty because “my child can only cope with one activity”, or “why can my child only cope with one activity?” or you start doubting your own judgement. “I thought that one sport and cultural activity was enough – clearly I’m wrong.” OR the other side of the coin, “Is my child doing too much? What is too much?”

Firstly, be very careful of being drawn into the clutches of others and their expectations. You know your child and their capabilities. We get so caught up in what other people have to say that we lose sight of what is really important and that is the happiness of our child. Secondly, we have to remember what we enjoy isn’t necessarily what our child enjoys and we have to ask ourselves if our child is doing a specific activity just to please us or are they doing it for themselves. Do they want to be competitive or just have fun and be part of a team?

Have you sat down with your child and asked them what it is they want to do? Have you explored every avenue bearing in mind sport isn’t the only extra mural activity. Are you open to suggestion? Do you really know your child’s aspirations? Yes, there are boys who want to dance and do drama and girls who want to play cricket or soccer.

Are you listening to your child? Or are you expecting them to “follow in your footsteps?”

A prime example is my daughter who came home at age four and a half and asked her two sporty parents if she could play the violin. We thought it would (at a push) last 6 months and willingly paid tuition and hiring fees. Thank goodness we listened. She is an extremely gifted, talented musician, who now plays both violin and piano and was afforded a scholarship to a prestigious high school because of her music. Oh and, other than doing other sport, she played cricket.

I get tired just thinking of how busy my own daughter is, yet she thrives on being active. She has actually admitted that her greatest fear is being bored. BUT her activities are varied and well-balanced. Yes, there is pressure in some areas, but she also sees other areas as an outlet after an academic day. This is how she ticks – and we’ve had to learn to accept it. She has been forced to prioritize and be highly organised and it works for her. The biggest rule in our house is communication.

And the one question always asked is, “do you still want to continue with everything in your extra mural programme or make adjustments?”

How much can children do before it becomes too much?

Dr Jerry Bubrick has a simple calculus for how much is too much. “Can you still do your homework? Can you still get 8+ hours sleep each night? Can you still be part of your family? Can you still hang out with your friends?” If your answer is ‘no’ to one or more of these, then it’s too much.

When extra-murals start interfering with your child’s life it is too much.

Here are some guidelines to consider in helping your child achieve a healthy balance …

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  • Remember there are some basic skills that every child should learn/be exposed to e.g. swimming and basic ball skills.
  • Ask yourself and your child why they are doing the extra mural activity. Does it have value? Is it fun? Does it encourage socialization/teamwork? Does it boost self-confidence? Is it just to bide time (babysitting facility)?
  • Is your child being too ambitious? You may have to set limits, especially if they display uncharacteristic mood swings, are exhausted, overly excitable or hyped up.
  • One also has to consider any costs involved – are you able to afford them, not just the fees, but all the “hidden costs”, extras?
  • Your child also needs to understand what commitment, endurance and perseverance is by being taught the value of time and money from a young age.
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In a nutshell:

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  • Know your child.
  • Consider other/all types of activities.
  • Step back – understand your child and see what limits your child has or doesn’t have.
  • If your child isn’t enjoying an activity don’t force them to do it.
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Extra murals should be non-threatening with the emphasis on learning through play (especially with younger children) without any unnecessary pressure involved.  They should help children to develop passions and talents.

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