Learning new things is a toddler’s job, but too much can be overwhelming. The opportunities are endless and enticing, and parents are often eager to sign up their cherubs for dance, swimming, playdates or music class. Beware: Too many activities can affect a toddler in negative ways. They can stress you out, too, while you’re managing the schedule, driving to each appointment and writing enrollment checks.
How Overscheduling Happens
Children younger than 5 go through the most rapid brain growth in their lifetimes, building as much as 85 percent of their core brain structure, according to child-development advocacy group Children Now. You might think you need to keep your child amused and engaged to foster his social, mental and physical development at every turn. You bring him to library storytime to encourage a lifelong love of books. You put him in sports to develop better coordination. And let’s be honest: Sometimes, keeping a toddler engaged outside the house is easier than battling requests to watch too much TV or eat endless sweets.
Anyone who has been around a toddler who missed naptime can recognize a late-afternoon meltdown. Overtired tots who missed their naptime (or had a short snooze in the car on the way home from the pool) become cranky, tearful and unreasonable by dinnertime. Activities are great for young minds, but don’t let them bleed into naps. Toddlers need a familiar routine to settle down for that all-important afternoon nap. A 90-minute break in the middle of the day is important for his growth and rejuvenation.
A full schedule of activities can interrupt toddler mealtimes. Eating out is expensive and often unhealthful — kid’s menus are usually little more than chicken fingers and grilled cheese. While you can try to make good choices at restaurants while he’s small, eventually, he’s going to discover french fries. If eating at a fast-food restaurant is more of a habit than a novelty, you could be setting up your child for a lifetime of bad choices. It also robs him of the experience of seeing how food is prepared, and the luxury of taking his time eating.
Little Imaginative Play
Toddlers with busy schedules miss out on time for imaginative play. If you’re afraid your child will be bored, don’t be — the lack of external stimulation gives his little mind a chance to create. Imaginative play engages burgeoning social, emotional, language and cognitive skills, so offer plenty of unstructured time for your child to use his imagination. Having tea parties with his animal friends, creating a fort out of blankets or pretending to have a parade are an important part of his development. Encourage more imaginative play on the go by keeping old clothes, empty food containers, writing instruments and notebooks in a backpack where your little explorer can use them between activities.