Overload is when the child's complete energy is focused on only one area, e.g. obligations, excluding all other developmental tasks and interests, like playing with friends, which are crucial for healthy growth.
Organised leisure activities stimulate child’s social development, provide opportunities for practice and new skills acquisition and are most often entertaining for children. Insecure and withdrawn children, as well as children with lower self-esteem are prone to evaluate themselves through success in these activities while children with good academic achievement who have much free time mostly spent in front of their computer or TV, should be motivated to do something creative, stimulating and useful so that they can spend quality leisure time.
Burn out syndrome in overburdened children
Parents are exposed to a range of offers of leisure and extracurricular activities for children and do not know how many of them serve their children’s needs best and when it would be too much–they wonder how much of such activity is stimulating and how much would be a burden for the child.
It is important to bear in mind that among so many requirements for the best education, participation in sports, mastering various skills, the key requirement of childhood–family life, should not be neglected. Running after various activities, family members rarely spend time together, family meals are very rare, the car is becoming a place to be together and the time for family bonding is being reduced. Overloaded schedule may lead to stress–parents in a hurry taking their children from one activity to another and children who, at some time, show signs of burn out syndrome, which until recently was the privilege of adults.
Balance of life with and out of the family
Generally, a proper balance between organised and pick and play activities, between life with and out of the family is important. Of course, it depends on the individual child and the family. The number of leisure activities depends on the child’s age, his/her talents, as well as his/her emotional, physical and intellectual maturity, school achievement, wishes and family circumstances. The child does not have to attend five leisure activities in order to be overburdened–for a particular child, two may be too much, while some other child may be happy with no fewer than five.
How can one know what is useful and good for the child? Whether the child is happy and healthy and how much, can be seen if during the day s/he does not often show fatigue, tension or indifference, laughs, has no problems with appetite or immunity, has time for play and friends every day, participates in classes readily, shows a wish to learn and acquire something new, does not often talk about succeeding and does not show too much interest in competing in any activities. The overburdened child will feel constant fatigue, will be tense, or depressed or indifferent, will complain of headache or stomach-ache, or may fall behind in fulfilling school obligations.
Five guidelines to choose leisure activities of a school child:
1. put family before everything
2. let the child have abundant free interaction with friends
3. leisure activities should be planned for the remaining time (after the first two requirements are met)
4. let the child choose leisure activities
5. have at least one meal a day as a family