How to Help Your Kids (or Teens) Find Balance With Sports, School + Family Life

Counter stress and balance priorities
A child and adult talking

You know the drill (perhaps all too well). Your daughter’s up for school at 6:30 a.m. and out the door in a flash. And after the dismissal bell rings, it’s time to cram in homework and grab a bite to eat. Then it’s gymnastics until 8:30 every evening (well, it’s really past 9 p.m. by the time you get home). And repeat.

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Child and adolescent psychiatrist Molly Wimbiscus, MD, readily acknowledges, “Families love sports, but parents just need to be aware of the stress it can cause and do what they can to help their kids balance priorities.”

Here, Dr. Wimbiscus provides some advice on how families can provide that balance between sports, family and academic life.

Q: Do you see managing sports activities being an issue for families?

A: Yes — especially for families involved in traveling sports teams, multiple competitions and more than weekly practices. The time commitment and interruption in evening and weekend activities can be a real issue.

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Q: So, what are the pros of being involved in sports?

A: There are many good things about being involved in sports, including socialization with peers, a sense of belonging, satisfaction in skill mastery, learning good sportsmanship and working hard towards a goal personally and as a group. And of course, staying active. With childhood obesity an issue, and 1 in 3 children not getting enough exercise, it is a good thing when kids get involved in sports.

Q: What are the major cons you see when talking with children?

A: It can be exhausting if a child is over involved in sports activities. It can interfere with academic success and cause stress. Sometimes the focus on the athletic competition can outweigh the value of the sports activity. It can also interfere in family life, evening activities, diversity of activities and mastery in other areas. And it can easily begin to interfere in sleep schedules if children have evening practices and they have to finish homework. This is why it is so important to be disciplined about staying on a schedule with practices, homework and bedtimes.

Q: How can parents help their kids stay healthy?

A: Always monitor their functioning in academic, social and emotional spheres. If behaviors, sleep patterns, grades, social engagement and emotional responses begin to change, discuss these changes with your child. Be open in talking with him or her and discuss a plan to make things better.

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Q: Will kids talk about their feelings of being overwhelmed? 

A: Each child is different. Some children may love sports and not recognize the strain it is causing them. Others may be very capable of explaining the stress of their lives. It’s up to parents to recognize issues and to talk with them about it.

Q: What recommendations do you have for finding balance?

  1. Don’t forget your priorities. It is OK to take a day off of the game or a practice if it is a special holiday or family event. Let the coach know beforehand. Sometimes family and personal priorities need to come first.
  2. Many times, less IS more! When parents feel the strain of having too many sporting events and don’t get the personal and family time to check in and engage with their children, it may be time to decide what sports and activities are most important and which ones can be set aside for now. 
  3. Your pediatrician can help. If you have tried working out the issues as a family, but still have questions and are not sure how to find that healthy balance, talk to your child’s pediatrician for advice.

Q: What can a parent do to help their children?

A: The time children spend as a family doing fun activities can be just as valuable for self-esteem and skill mastery. Parents can model good sportsmanship for children in many settings. Engage in family and neighborhood sports activities together such as community runs, bike rides, swims, and/or hiking around your neighborhood or the parks. 

And finally, remember: Kids learn by example. Try to be a good role model for your kids by staying active and living in a healthy and balanced way. You can be sure that they will catch on!

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