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The Scheduled Child

A Matter of Balance

This is not to say that there isn’t a place for developing excellence. Doing well in life requires the willingness to work at something; to manage setbacks, and to try again and again. If a child needs help with schoolwork, it’s reasonable to schedule in some after-school help or tutoring.

For the child who really, really does want to be an excellent athlete or dancer or violinist or biochemist, it makes sense to find a coach or teacher who can be helpful. When these experiences are balanced with other, less achievement-oriented activities, kids don’t burn out and parents don’t have to feel guilty.

Play to a Child’s Strengths

Think about it. Would you rather spend your time doing something you know how to do well and enjoy, or be in a situation where you feel like you’re less skilled than others and may be letting the team down? Children who feel competent in an activity are more likely to stick with it and not complain about having to go.

Talk to your child about what he or she is good at and what choices are available. If your kid is great at swimming and can’t make a soccer goal to save his life (and therefore hates it), forget about soccer and sign up for the swim team or recreational swimming.

Give Kids Some Say

Many kids will tell you that they would prefer to stay home alone. If that isn’t an option due to their age or safety concerns, be clear about it. But then sit down together and figure out what choices the kids can have. Kids who feel that they have some say in what they do in the afternoons are also more likely to be cooperative. Work together within the constraints of your budget, transportation needs, and values to map out the week.

Allow for Change

As your child gets older, she or he may lose interest in something that was once an obsession. An important part of childhood is trying different things and sorting out what one does and doesn’t like. Forcing a kid to stay with something just because it makes your life easier will ultimately create stress for both parent and child. On the other hand, you can’t be expected to accommodate a child who wants to make a change every other day. Equally important, children need to learn to take decision-making seriously and to follow through with commitments. A three- to six-month minimuml commitment is only fair to a team, teacher, or activity.

Guilt-free Parenting

Guilt free parenting? Right. When someone figures out how to do that, please let me know. In the meantime, I do know this: A scheduled child doesn’t have to be a hurried child or a pressured child or a child deprived of childhood. If we plan afternoons with care, a scheduled child can instead be a safe and secure child, an active child, and a mostly happy child. That’s not something to feel guilty about.

The Scheduled Child

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). The Scheduled Child. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.