Our 10-year-old just made me think twice about filling up her summer schedule

Bodkin girls

We had a rare Saturday recently.

No sports. No family or friend events. No anything.

Just us and our chickens.

I was confused. Our 12-year-old seized the quiet by sleeping in.

… 10 a.m. …

… 11 a.m. …

She was trying for noon when I wiggled her doorknob. Wake. Up.

She was almost as surprised as I was to learn we had nothing planned for the day.

No basketball tournaments? No practices? No desperately running her and her four siblings around town to avoid being late for something?

Nope. Just watching the grass grow.

An eventless Saturday might be normal for some families but not for ours. Keeping our kids busy — OK, packed to the ponytails with activities — has become an unwritten way of life at our house.

Unwritten but by design. An active childhood and sports were a deep part of my upbringing, and they’ve shaped much of my outlook on life. My wife, who played college basketball and grew up on a farm, was probably more active than I was as a kid.

So it’s gone without saying during our 14-year marriage: Our kids stay active.

Summer has supercharged our pursuits. Last week, we bounced between basketball practices, softball games, art classes, a track meet, a sleepover, more basketball practices and a couple family events.

As I write this, two of our four daughters are planning a camping trip in our backyard. Their older sister is playing in a softball tournament a few towns away.

We’d have it no other way. Research is clear about the benefits of an active upbringing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that those benefits are more than just physical.

“Regular physical activity can help children and adolescents improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of developing health conditions,” the CDC’s website reads (my emphasis).

And, as my wife says, keeping them busy also keeps them out of trouble.

I’ve simply never questioned the upsides of loading them up with stuff to do — until a recent chat with our 10-year-old.

I had just picked her up from a basketball practice, which we had dropped her off at right after her first track meet of the year.

I noticed her tired eyes and flushed cheeks as she climbed into my truck.

“Do you feel sick?” I asked.

“No, just tired.”

For the first time I can recall, I wondered if we had done something wrong by taking her straight from one event to another. She had just run the hurdles, a relay and two sprints in nearly 90-degree heat before I dumped her off at another practice.

The dad questions flowed freely from the driver’s seat. Had she made sure to drink from her water bottle? Was she hungry? Dizzy? Was her dad really dense enough to drop her off at another practice without asking her if she was OK or even up for it?

No wonder our 12-year-old, who’s even more booked up with sports, friends and other events, pounced at a chance to sleep in until noon on Saturday.

I don’t want to be dramatic. Kids are resilient. We have five, and they thrive on doing things. They are active by nature.

But those red cheeks and tired eyes made me realize that I’ve never been great about checking in with them about the loads they carry, to really check in about all the things we sign them up for to see how they are holding up.

We have talked to them about things. Just a few years ago we yanked a couple of them out of gymnastics and ballet because, well, they didn’t like it, and practices had become miserable for them.

“But for active families like mine, says family therapist Liz Morrison, it’s important to know that you can over-schedule your kids, to have an ongoing dialogue and to watch for signs that they are overdoing it.”

Morrison offers five things to watch for:

  1. They’re falling behind in school (we’re OK here).
  2. They don’t sleep well, or enough (I’d be lying if I said trying to get our kids to bed at a decent time isn’t a disaster at our house nightly).
  3. They stop seeing their friends (not happening at our place).
  4. They experience unexplained physical problems (we’re good here).
  5. Their mental health has taken a hit (always something we try to watch for and address immediately).

A few things can help them avoid burnout or deal with it if it’s a problem, Morrison adds.

  • Talk to your kids about their schedules.
  • Let them try things without feeling like they must commit to them longterm.
  • Let them set their own schedules for what they want to do.

All good things for my family.

What about yours? How do you balance life and busy schedules for your kids? Send any tips or examples to [email protected].

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

Devin was formerly a senior reporter and editor for Idaho Education News and now works for INL in communications.

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