This is the time of year when we physicians see a lot of kids who come in for sports physicals and wellness examinations before starting school. It’s one sign that kids and their parents are beginning to think about the school year ahead, and the types of activities they’ll participate in during the year. We typically ask questions about a child’s general health, diet, use of helmets, hobbies and activities they do outside of school.
While physical activity is very important for a lifetime of health, children also benefit from other types of extracurricular activities including art, music, community service, and after-school jobs.
Kids get so much more than just additional exercise from participating in a sport or learning to play a musical instrument and being in the marching band. Children with regular activities outside of school have better academic outcomes, lower incidence of alcohol and drug use and lower dropout rates. Extracurricular activities help kids develop teamwork skills, explore their identities and develop emotionally.
As a parent you want to set your kids up for the best outcome possible as they grow into young adults. There are so many options for kids in Spokane. Art, music, volunteering, dance, gymnastics, swimming, rowing and other activities are available through private instruction, charitable organizations, the YMCA and elsewhere. There are also terrific activities for kids and parents to enjoy together, such as community bike rides and events such as Bloomsday, Hoopfest and this weekend’s Spokefest ( www.spokefest.org).
I find myself tempted to get our young daughter involved in many activities because we enjoy doing so many ourselves. But when is it too much?
You need to ensure there is enough time for eating, sleeping and doing homework. Time for play, to be together as a family and to visit with friends outside of scheduled activities are also important to your child’s mental health. Keep in mind how much sleep children require:
• 3- to 5-year-olds need 11 to 13 hours of sleep per night
• 5- to 10-year-olds need 10 to 11 hours, and
• 10- to 17-year-olds need 8.5 to 9.5 hours
For kids ages 5 to 18, 5 hours of extracurricular activities per week (the national average) can be enough to keep them busy and engaged, while others may want to take on more and can manage to do so without detriment.
It is important to consider how much you can handle, too. It is great if you are willing to sacrifice your time for your child, but if you are stressed and trying to hide it, you probably are not keeping it from affecting your child. Kids pick up on our stress much more than we think and that can make them feel sad, worried and frustrated. Not to mention that it’s important for your child’s development that you model healthy behaviors such as getting enough sleep and exercise.
Watch for signs of stress and fatigue (sleeplessness, irritability, changes in behavior, changes in eating habits, poor grades) in your child and in yourself and adjust schedules accordingly. Try to share the burden of shuttling kids to and from activities by carpooling or enlisting the help of others (grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends). If you feel like your child (or you) needs to cut back, talk with him or her about why you are worried and come up with a plan together for what needs to be cut from the schedule.
As with many things in life, finding a balance is the key.
Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your comments and column suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.