How to Know If Your Child is Overcommitted

When there's too much to do, here's how to let things go.

All 4 Types of children get overwhelmed in their own way

Whining, procrastination, resistance, complaining. These can all be signs of a child who has too much coming at them.

How do you find the right balance? And more importantly, if a child is overcommitted, how do you help them let things go? Carol and Anne share tips to create a more balanced schedule for all 4 Types of children.

This week’s Parenting Practice

This week, take inventory of all the activities your child is involved in. Use the tips in this week’s episode to determine which ones are supportive to your child. Ask your child how they feel about each activity and let go of what’s not supportive anymore.

Transcript of podcast episode

Carol: You’ve got to teach them. It’s a great teaching moment to say, “Okay. You’re about to do this again. What happened last time?”

Carol: Welcome to the “Child Whisperer Podcast.” I’m your host Carol Tuttle, author of the bestselling parenting book, “The Child Whisperer.” I’m with my co-host Anne Tuttle Brown.

Anne: This question comes from a Type 2 mom. My 14-year-old Type 1 son is beginning to take on responsibilities like mowing yards in the neighborhood, training to be a camp counselor, attending a leadership camp, and so on. He wants to do these things, but then the reality of all the work and unstructured time that these activities involve is overwhelming to him. This leads to whining and procrastination on his part, and anger and frustration on mine. I know he needs spontaneity and downtime, and I try and keep our schedule open as much as possible to allow for that. But how can I help him to cope better with this busier schedule?

Carol: I always find it interesting and there’s a lot of answers in how a parent writes a question, and how they’re really setting themselves up in the question that they’re not seeing. So, whenever you write a question, reread it and see what you notice. What I noticed right away is I know he needs spontaneity in downtime, and I try to keep our schedule open. So then I wonder, “Well, who’s the one that’s really created his experience?” Is it…because the parent…Where is it coming from? Is it from the parent’s encouragement getting a child involved in so many things? And at 14, a child needs to learn…start learning those kinds of decision-making skills about what to choose into, how to stay accountable for it, be responsible, follow through, all the things that you need in your adult life.

And so children, if they’re overcommitted, they won’t learn the skill sets. They’re busy. They’re busy for the sake of being busy without the benefit of what are we learning through this process on how to make quick decisions, how to manage my time, how to make sure I’ve got…I do it in a way that I create balance for my Type. Things like that. And then with her other, “But how can I help him cope?” Whenever I see a word like that, there’s too much you’re saying if you have to cope with something, it’s stressful.

Anne: Right. Maybe it doesn’t need to be as busy as it is.

Carol: Yeah. Because if…

Anne: Maybe the question should be, “How can I help my Type 1 thrive with bigger commitments and responsibilities and not…”

Carol: And be successful with what they take on.

Anne: I think kids commit to a lot these days. There are a lot of opportunities. You’ve got school full time and they come home with extracurricular activities, and on top of that if they have a job they’re doing. So, you’re right, 14 is kind of the age where you’re adding a lot of additional responsibilities. What is…she says that it leads to whining and procrastination. So that’s a clue that he’s overcommitted. There’s too much and he’s a Type 1. What are some ways that you would see it expressed in the other Types when they’re overcommitted?

Carol: The reason I think he’s…let’s go back to Type 1 just for a moment there. It’s too heavy. So when a child, a Type 1 child is whining and complaining and they’re stressed, there’s not a lightness about it. It’s just one thing to the next thing to the next thing. There’s no open space, there’s no breathing room for them. Now, I have this time to just be, as she said, trying to work in spontaneity and it’s not fun anymore, it’s a lot of busy doings.

Anne: And like you pointed out in the question, she says, “I know he needs that, and I try to keep our schedule open.” Does he know he needs that and is he trying to keep a schedule open? Going back to your point that this is the age where they should be learning this, these responsibilities and what works for them. Otherwise, he’s gonna drive himself into the ground and not wanna do anything, or he’s gonna keep this pattern going through his adult years and always be trying to do more than he actually can enjoy.

Carol: It’s the phase of life between 12 and 18 where we start to understand what commitment looks like and how we respond to it. We developed…as you said, we start what can be lifelong habits that are not supportive to us because we weren’t aware of our Type, and we weren’t good managers of our true nature. We weren’t given the support for that. And so does he know he’s a Type 1? At this age, a child, if you have a working knowledge as a parent, they should be…I feel strongly there’s something that is very supportive to a child understand about themselves by the age of 14.

Anne: They should be brought into the conversation.

Carol: Yeah. These are your needs, this is why you’re feeling this way. For a Type 2, they all just, I think, feel the physical drain and become more emotional as well.

Anne: I think they’ll go more inward as well like, “I don’t wanna go.” They’ll just all of a sudden retreat within themselves.

Carol: And you might be saying hurry up a lot to them to get to whatever that commitment is.

Anne: I think it would lead to stomach aches, could have headaches. And yeah, just that more emotional, like, crying or just, like, kind of anxiousness.

Carol: If they’re feeling stressed and they don’t have good language skills to express their stressed state, they’ll use emotion and body issues to get themselves out of things rather than addressing, “I’m feeling overwhelmed, I don’t feel I can…I’m overcommitted, there’s too much for me to do. It’s just stressing me.” They’ll do it through whining, complaining, and, “I don’t feel well.” So they don’t have to keep the commitment.

Anne: Yeah. What about Type 3, what would that look like? What are the clues to know that they are overcommitted?

Carol: Definitely, emotion is something that children have more distressed emotion expressing, and I think they’ll get just agitated easier. Just…

Anne: More reactive in a way. Yeah.

Carol: Reactive. I think a Type 3 would fight you about stuff, too.

Anne: Yeah. Definitely.

Carol: Resist. Be much more intense in their reaction with you to just be resistant and fighting about it.

Anne: And Type 4 could be complaining a lot or just wanna quit it all kind of that black or white.

Carol: But they start calling all they’re doing stupid. “It’s so stupid. Why am I even doing this?” Because they’re not getting fulfillment…

Anne: Or they show disrespect to maybe who’s in charge of the program that they’re doing, or just being like blaming it on everything outside that has to do with it and just wanting to be done with it all.

Carol: So, how do you know if your child is overcommitted? You look for those signs. Look for those signs. And then what are some other things that a parent can do truly help them shift that, so that there’s a balance in their life, and what they are committed to, they succeed at?

Anne: As a parent, the first question you’d ask yourself is what responsibility is going to be on you as a parent, and what responsibility will be on the child? And that’s going to be based on the age of your child. As my daughter is six years old right now, a lot of what she gets involved in will fall on me because I’d be the one driving her there, I would be keeping her practicing. And so the one extracurricular activities she’s involved in right now is piano. And so I’m committed to helping her practice every day and make sure she gets to her class.

If she was committed to more, that would be too much stress on me because of the other things that I have going on, and the other young children that I have. And so that’s my max. She would love to be involved in more, but since that’s my responsibility right now because of her age, I know where my limits are and how much time I have. So, but in this case of a 14-year-old, he could be involved in more if he can get himself to the activities, or he can oversee how he’s managing his time. And so I think that’s the first thing to do is just notice where your kids are at and how much it will require of you as a parent.

Carol: Because if you’re stressed by how much your children are committed in, they’re going to feel that and even reflect that stress back to you. Because maybe it’s really you’re the one that’s stressed about it because…You’ve got several children?

Anne: Yeah.

Carol: Then you’ve crawled so many ways.

Anne: We talked about how the different Types of children respond to being over and committed. The same can be said for a parent.

Carol: That’s true.

Anne: So, are you responding in any of those ways that we identified earlier?

Carol: Yeah.

Anne: Are you feeling as a Type 2 mom physical drain and more emotional like the weight you’re putting on yourself?

Carol: Yeah. Maybe you’re getting physical ailments just to…

Anne: I just can’t drive you anywhere today, kid, sorry.

Carol: The next thing to do, and again I think a child that’s at least eight and up could be involved in this next step, is to make a list of everything and how much time is left. That’s even just blocking out…taking a paper calendar, writing everything down, the timelines for all of them, and how many open spaces are there?

Anne: Yeah. What’s realistic?

Carol: You put in the school, put in your homework, put in everything. What is every commitment? And then if you want your child to perform certain tasks and chores at home, what is just day-to-day lifestyle commitments, extracurricular commitments? Once you get that all in front of you, you kind of step back and look at it and go, “There’s a lot going on here.” And how supportive is this for our wellbeing. And so do that with your child because, again, this is a phase in life where they’re learning time management skills and balance, how to create balance, how to approach things in a healthy manner, how to say no to things, say…what to say yes to. And taking inventory is going to be very important in that assessment, so you actually use it as a teaching tool.

For a Type 1 child, I would say, “How many of these things are you really having fun with?” And the ones they say no to, I’m not having fun with that, is it a matter of just changing your approach with it? Because if they say, “I’m not having fun with school.” Now that’s not as optional than what is it the approach? How do you change the experience with that with the things you don’t want to necessarily drop off the calendar? For the things that are truly extracurricular for the Type 1 child, are they having fun? Is it the kind of activity that really supports their true nature? And you could go through for each of the other Types and have that same assessment for Type 2. Is this nurturing to you? Do you feel supported by it? Do you feel comfortable in this experience? For Type 3, are you feeling challenged by this? Is it really…you feel this opportunity to grow and it’s challenging and you love that.

For Type 4, is it supportive to your growth and development and just having, again, that intellectual connection with the world and it’s keeping your interest? Do you feel it has value in your life because it’s supportive to you? And they’re the most reasonable about the black and white approach to things to think “If I love something and I really feel it’s worth my time, I’ll honor it.” If they feel that it’s not valuable to them, they don’t see the sense of it, they tend to not see it has any value to them, and that’s when they call something stupid.

Anne: When you’re determining what time is left over and what they should be involved in, you could ask yourself, “What is my child good at? What do they have a talent for?” And give it more attention to that. And this is something that could be inspired along the way. Maybe it’s something that you don’t know they’re quite good at, but you feel that this is what they should be involved in. And as my 6-year-old daughter is in piano, she’s complained many times, but she also is very excited when she does learn a song. But I have stayed committed to that because personally, I feel like this is something that will be good for her. And so as she’s only six, I’m taking that responsibility on myself to know what is best for her to be involved in right now. And so what is your child good at and where can their talent shine?

Carol: The Child Whisperer gives you all sorts of insights around that based on a child’s natural gifts and tendencies, what they would be inclined to be interested in based on those gifts and tendencies. I talk a lot about that in the book, and so that’s the go-to place through different phases of your childhood. That’s what I love about The Child Whisperer textbook. Well, we call it a handbook. It is a handbook for many years in your child’s life because there’s sections in there based on age variables and what a child would enjoy. So, go back to The Child Whisperer to reference, with the age your child is at, what would support them and what they’re good at.

This week’s parenting practice is the first step we shared with you today, which is take that inventory of what your child is involved in, especially this time of year as you have shifted to school time. So, that’s a big chunk of that time.

And the extracurricular, the family commitments, the lifestyle, chores, and the to do’s around the house, get it all in front of you, so you really can see what have we committed to. Get your child’s feedback on that. Do it together. It’s a great bonding exercise and it’s, again, teaching them a skill set to assess their lives so they make better decisions around time management and saying yes and no to the correct things in their life. And then the things, as you go through that questioning process, of how do you feel about all this, you can support them and letting go of the things that are not supportive. And that’s tricky for parents, especially if invested time and money previously. And we come from a very strong cultural reference to saying, “Well, you’ve committed, you got to stick with it.” And so can you support your child in letting go of something?

Now, the Type 1 child, especially, I think you need to have space for them abandoning things, but learning from that because they’ll tend to say yes to more things than any other Type. On the front end of it, they think this is a great idea. “Sure, I wanna do that.” They’ll get further into it. It will not hold their interest. If you let them choose out of it, you’ve got to trace the pattern though, so they learn from it rather than repeating that pattern over and over of choosing into things that ultimately don’t work out and they wanna dump it. You got to teach them.

It’s a great teaching moment to say, “Okay. You’re about to do this again. What happened last time?” So, they make correct choices that have sustainability. Thanks for listening. For more support, go to the where you can purchase the book, subscribe to our weekly parenting practice email, and find a transcription and audio of “The Child Whisperer Podcast.”

Anne: If you’re listening on iTunes, thank you for leaving your review. If you have a parenting question, please send it to [email protected].

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