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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.

For example, during the preschool years, the goals are largely social -- teaching kids to take turns, share, or even just sit and listen. In grade school, kids are ready to start building skills, and should be exposed to different kinds of activities -- from languages to sports to music -- so that they can see where their strengths and weaknesses lie. They can gradually focus their activities as they find their strengths. Adulthood is a time for enjoying the skills acquired, Thienemann said.

An indicator of over-scheduling during the grade-school years would be difficulty getting a child to wake up in the morning because they're not getting enough sleep. "Kids should spontaneously get themselves up," Thienemann said.

Irritability or frantic crying over an activity may also be warning signs. Activities "are not going to be fun every day, but there has to be some enjoyment on the child's part or it's not right," Thienemann said.

An inability to amuse themselves or be autonomous may result from children having no downtime. "We want our kids to develop the capacity for judgment, for amusing themselves, for self-reflection," Thienemann said.

Jill Gaieski, who lives with her two boys, ages 6 and 9, in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, said she asks her sons to choose one sport per quarter so that they get exercise. They both attend Hebrew school, and may take a music class -- if they want to. The boys are encouraged to take free time, she said.

"There has to be a balance between some structure and some free time," Gaieski said. "During vacation, for example, if we stay home for a week, by the end they're rolling around like two tiger cubs. We have to have some structure between pajama days."

About the Author:
Christine Dunn is a freelance writer and founder of Savoir Media Co., a media training and consulting firm in Massachusetts. She worked for more than a decade at Bloomberg News, and currently also regularly contributes to Compliance Week.

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