Q & A

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am

My nine-year old son has suddenly become reluctant to take part in extra-curricular activities. He usually does these most afternoons as I prefer him to do valuable sports and learning activities rather than spend too much time with my helper at home. However, he has become lethargic and disinterested in most things out of school and has offered no explanation even though I have tried to talk to him about it.

Teacher Julie McGuire replies:

It sounds like your son may be overscheduled and overloaded. Of course as parents you feel compelled to give your son every advantage.

However, this can often be misunderstood as cramming children's time with activities. On top of homework this can be too much. Some child psychiatrists are noting that overscheduled children are anxious, angry and burned out. This can show itself in frequent tantrums, meltdowns, constant tiredness or difficulty in sleeping.

A recent study in the US shows that children today have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago. Learning expert Professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek says: 'There is a myth that doing nothing is wasting time, when it's actually extremely productive and essential.'

She goes on to outline the critical life skills that come from children having a sensible amount of free time: exploring the world at their own pace, indulging in fantasy play, being scientists, creators and innovators. Perhaps most importantly time to revel in 'the joys of just being a kid'.

Certain children do thrive on doing lots of activities. Your son may not be one of these. I agree that there are many learning and social advantages to your son taking part in extra-curricular activities.

They should help him to be challenged, confident and build up a wide range of interests. It is important though to let him be part of the decision process. Find out which activities he enjoys and be prepared to compromise. Ask your son his opinions, don't assume that you know how he feels.

Be a good role model. If your son witnesses you leading a frenetic life he may feel he has to do the same. Take opportunities to turn off your mobile phone and computer. Make time to read or listen to music. Make sure you have unstructured family time to do fun things together such as going to the beach or park, playing a board game or simply relaxing together.

In today's society it is easy to feel pressure from other parents or feel that your son will lose out in comparison with other children if he is not signed up for activities every day. Remember he may be gaining much more. The importance of a balanced life applies to children as well as adults. Allow time for your son to play with friends and relax in his own way. Give him the chance to build his own unique set of interests.