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Does Your Child Get Enough Downtime?

It happened the spring my Elsa was 6: I suddenly had an overscheduled child.

I hadn't meant to. She had started karate in January after begging for it for nearly a year and was loving the twice-weekly classes. On Fridays she had soccer practice with a coach and friends she really enjoyed. Then she was offered a space on the local swim team. I hadn't expected that she'd make it  -- Elsa seemed to like playing underwater a lot more than swimming laps  -- but the coach thought she was ready, and so did she.

Problem was, it involved at least two practices a week. Which meant that Elsa had an activity every day after school (I'd never allowed this with any of my other children). Plus: There was a soccer game every Saturday.

But when I asked her if she'd like to drop any of her activities  -- after all, it was a lot to handle for a child any age  -- she didn't. She wanted to do them all. What helped to persuade me was that they were in the late afternoon, allowing time for homework, playdates, and hanging out.

As it happened, Elsa seemed to thrive with her busy schedule. And so I let her continue. But while I went along with her wishes, I worried that she was overscheduled  -- and I watched her carefully

Any parent who's ever had to shuttle her child back and forth to soccer or ballet classes knows it's not easy to decide on the right activity-downtime balance. Determining whether your child is actually overscheduled is a tough call, especially when it can vary so much from kid to kid, family to family, and moment to moment. For one child, a single activity might be all, or more, than she can handle; another might juggle several with ease. It depends on a number of factors, including your child's age, temperament, the length of the school day, and what else is going on in his  -- and your family's  -- life. Contributing editor Claire McCarthy, M.D., writes Parenting's On Call column.