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Keeping Kids Busy -- But Not Too Busy

How busy is too busy? Parents and children try to balance their active lifestyles.
keeping kids busy

On Sunday afternoons, Dante Muzzioli, a father of three who has coached hockey for more than three decades, likes to go with his family to Grandma's house for dinner. In recent years, between sports practices, games, and babysitting jobs, Grandma has had to plan her dinners around the schedules of her busy clan.

"We're running into dinner at 5 p.m. after soccer games, and then leave at 7 p.m. because we have another activity. It becomes a little hectic," said Muzzioli, a resident of Belmont, Massachusetts.

All of Muzzioli's daughters have played sports competitively, either on high school hockey or soccer teams, or on more demanding club teams, he says. The activities have taught his girls how to organize their time, given them valuable memories with friends, and kept them busy and focused. "I like to say she's not worried about dying her hair purple," Muzzioli said of his youngest daughter, age 15.

Finding the balance between scheduling activities for your kids and over-scheduling them can be tough when the pressure to compete and excel starts as early as grade school. Parents need to teach their kids how to make choices. They also need to recognize their own anxieties in wanting to see their child succeed.

"No child should be scheduled all the time," said Heather Weiss, director of the Harvard Family Research Project, and a senior research associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "Parents shouldn't put undue pressure for too many things. Appropriate parenting means helping a child make appropriate choices, making sure they get enough sleep, and enabling them to be successful."

But what does that really mean? How can a parent know when they've crossed the line?

Parents first need to identify the purpose behind the activities in which their children participate, and keep them age-appropriate, according to Dr. Margo Thienemann, a child psychiatrist and the director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, associated with Stanford University Medical School.

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