How to Scale Back When Your Student is Overcommitted

6 min to read
Students playing chess

There are more opportunities than ever for students to explore life, hobbies, and passions inside and outside of schooltime. Many students may try to balance their academic commitments while also keeping up with sports, friends, jobs, and family obligations. Yet, with all these opportunities and responsibilities comes the danger of overcommitment.

While taking on extra responsibilities, heavy academic loads, and other commitments can be admirable, there can be a point when a student is doing too much. However, a student may not recognize that they are doing too much, studying too hard, or overextending themselves.

But how can you tell when your student is doing too much? How do you know when they’re pushing themselves to be better and when they’re overcommitting themselves to a point that could be doing more harm than good?

Common Warning Signs of Overcommitment

When a student overcommits, they may exhibit signs that they are doing too much. Here are some common warning signs of overcommitment.

1. Feeling Anxious, Tired, or Overwhelmed

When a student overcommits, they often have a lack of breathing room to pause, relax, and enjoy life. They may feel like there’s always another task hanging over their heads, which can cause anxiety, feelings of depression, and being overwhelmed. This can lead to burnout, which is when students have continual frustration or stress and little to no time to recharge and relax.

2. Underperforming in Academics

Overcommitting to too many obligations both in and out of school can lower a student’s academic performance. This is because burnout can cause a student to feel exhausted and develop a pessimistic outlook—neither of which are beneficial for doing well in school.

3. Missing Deadlines

If your student is missing deadlines, then it may be because they do not have enough room in their schedule to finish their work on time. Missed deadlines can result in even more work for your student as they try to catch up, which can increase feelings of anxiety and of being overwhelmed. This can also put your student at a higher risk of missing even more deadlines and getting caught in an unhealthy and unproductive cycle.

4. Procrastinating

Student procrastination is often caused by a student feeling overworked, exhausted, and being anxious about failing. If you find that your student scrambles at the last minute to complete tasks, then they may be procrastinating. Talk with them to find out why they are procrastinating and if it is, indeed, because of burnout or overcommitment.

5. Constantly Busy

Being overcommitted often means that a student’s schedule is jam-packed, so there is little room for spontaneity. Yet, spontaneity and surprise can be fun and necessary for kids’ happiness and for helping them grow into adaptable adults.

A student looking through a microscope

How to Prevent Overcommitment

Help your student identify when they are doing too much and guide them in learning how not to overcommit by finding a healthier balance between obligations and fun.They keep asking you to tell them what they should do after high school 


Students may have difficulty prioritizing their commitments and responsibilities. It’s a difficult skill to learn! Yet, prioritizing tasks and activities is a must because it will show what the student values most and needs to keep in their lives versus what the student may be okay with dropping.

Try using the Eisenhower Matrix to help your student identify what is urgent and important versus what is not.

Estimate the Time and Energy Commitments Take

Students may overcommit themselves because they underestimate how much time and energy tasks can take. For example, they may think that their homework will take thirty minutes to complete, but it really will take an hour to finish.

To help your student, list all their commitments and write down the estimated time it takes to do the related tasks, then, ask them to time themselves actually doing the tasks. This will help your student to visualize their time and see what is realistic and reasonable in a normal day. This will enable you and your student to understand if your student is doing too much in their day-to-day.

Make an Activity Chart

To help your student identify their priorities, consider making an activity chart.  In the chart, put each day of the week at the top of each column and your student’s waking hours on the rows. This will help your student  visualize their time.   

Then, take sticky notes and write down the activities and responsibilities that your student currently has and add time estimates for each of those sticky notes. Work with your student to put the sticky notes on the appropriate days. For example, if your student has swim lessons each Wednesday and Friday for two hours, then add in the “Swim Lessons” to Wednesday and Friday’s columns and put those sticky notes in the rows that match the times (e.g., 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.). Don’t forget to add in school time, study time, and family time. Doing this will help your student visualize what time is already taken up during their days.

Once you and your student have the chart filled out with your student’s current responsibilities, make sticky notes for the activities and responsibilities that your child wants to take on. Look at what spaces are available in the chart. This will show your student if they have time to take on something new, when they could do the new activity, or if it’s something that they need to say “no” to. It can be a difficult process, but setting realistic expectations for yourself and understanding your time constraints are key to your child learning critical and beneficial time management skills that they can use when they are adults.

Set Boundaries

Learning how to set boundaries and say “no” to requests can be difficult lessons, particularly if your student is a people pleaser. Sometimes, saying “no” can result in the person feeling guilty or anxious. So, helping your student navigate these feelings will ultimately teach them how to set boundaries.

Sometimes students need to learn how to say “no” to their own desires, too. For example, they may want to do soccer and choir and an internship, but, realistically, they can only do one. You can help your student identify what they want to do most and what they have time for. Then, you can help them cope with any fears of missing out on the activities they said “no” to. 

If your student expresses anxiety about saying “no” to something, discuss with them why they feel anxious or upset at saying “no.”

Even if your child understands it isn't possible to do every activity they want to do, they still may experience difficult feelings accepting that they may not be able to take a class that their friends are in or join another club that meets on the other side of town. Caregivers should listen to their children and give them an open and judgement-free space to air their feelings. Whether it seems like your student’s reasons are based in logic or emotion, take each one seriously and into consideration. By openly discussing feelings and goals, caregivers and their students can work towards a compromise and a better understanding of one another and life.

Overcommitting to after-school obligations and even studying too much rarely yields positive and healthy results for students. Keep an open dialogue with your student about their commitments—what fits in with their dreams, what they have time for, and what they may have to let go. While it’s a good thing to see a project or activity to its completion, that sometimes isn’t possible, which is okay. By helping your student with saying “no,” prioritizing tasks, and learning how to let some things go can give your student the time to recharge, relax,  be their best selves.

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