Monday, October 20, 2014

Are Our Kids Too Busy?

There are two opposing thoughts about this topic. Many believe that children today are far too busy with school, sports teams, clubs, music lessons, and several other afterschool activities. Others believe the enrichment and physical exercise children receive from these activities are very important to their development. It’s critical for children to develop their skills and natural talents with some of these activities, but how much is too much? We don’t want our kids so busy that they experience an unhealthy amount of stress. Here are some suggestions for determining if your kid is too busy:
  • They exhibit signs of fatigue or undergo personality changes. The problem may not be just a lack of sleep, even though a lack of sleep can be a big problem. Too many activities create stress, and that creates personality problems. A typically enthusiastic child can become lethargic. Uncommon mood swings or signs of depression may begin to occur. As parents, it’s our job to notice the signs of childhood stress and demand some changes. Kids want to have it all – sports, music, honors classes, karate, afterschool camps, and in their spare time, horse riding lessons. Parents have to intervene and make wise choices for them.
  • They hardly engage in free play. Part of a child’s development used to result from playing in the backyard, inviting friends over to the house, or just engaging with the neighborhood kids. Free play, not organized activities, allowed kids to learn how to sort out relationship issues, be creative, discover nature around them, relieve stress, and entertain themselves. A large part of free play has been replaced by organized activities. Although these activities may provide a great way for kids to develop their abilities and interests, they can be overscheduled and rob children of natural learning experiences.
  • They need you to constantly entertain them. Overscheduled children become used to following the orders of an instructor who organizes every hour of their day. Children can become so accustomed to the agenda in a sports practice or an organized activity, they become dependent upon adults to always tell them what to do. When kids show signs of parental over-dependence, it’s time to expose them more to other kids in an unstructured setting.
  •  They experience too much car time, and not enough family dinnertime. What is the norm in your family, eating in the car as you drive from one activity to another, or sitting down with everyone for a family meal? Kids eventually come to an age – usually older teenagers – when they are more apt to handle busy schedules and the demands of sports teams or fine arts activities. Don’t let your kids grow up too early. Ask the parents of a teenager who is involved in extracurricular activities. There are many days they wish they could sit down together as a family and enjoy a meal together, but the demands of the schedule don’t permit it as often as they wish. Seize the days you have with your children. When they become teens, there’s no turning back.
  •  They see a drop in their test grades. Difficulty in school should not demand that children drop all extracurricular involvement, but school performance needs to be a priority. If extracurricular activities rob students of quality study time or reasonable bedtimes, you can expect them to struggle academically. In these cases, parents need to initiate some changes that properly balance school and extracurricular activities. 
The solution is not to drop all afterschool activities and limit your children to backyard play only. Stopping all participation so your child can sit in front of the television for several hours every afternoon is certainly not recommended. Participation in extracurricular outlets offers profitable ways to enrich your child; but over-scheduling defeats the purpose and causes harm. As parents, we need to be observant about how our children’s participation affects them and the rest of the family. Obviously, children have only one childhood to experience. Let’s help them enjoy it rather than over-schedule it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Build Happy Kids: Bury Perfectionism

"The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement."  – George Will

Life isn’t perfect. How many times did our parents and teachers tell us that? We try to teach our kids the same lesson, but the drama increases when we are dealing with a perfectionist. A kid who thinks every situation in life must be flawless stands no chance of enjoying a happy childhood or adult life.

A perfectionist cannot settle for “good enough.” It has to be perfect – a condition that he determines.  It’s all or nothing.  Even if she has done her best, a “B+” will not suffice when an “A” exists. If he can’t ride his bike faster than everyone in the neighborhood, he’s not going to ride at all. If she can’t be the best on the team, she doesn’t want to even try out. The perfectionist will be the first to notice a flaw, and he’ll want to correct it right away.

The perfectionists’ taste for quality is commendable, and this child’s ambition will benefit him later in life (He may become a successful CEO, business owner, or principal). But many unnecessary disappointments and missed opportunities also lie ahead if the perfectionist’s expectations have not been trimmed down. Here are some thoughts to consider while guiding your young perfectionists.

Teach Flexibility
Don’t let children walk away from good opportunities because the situation is not perfect. Flexibility is a trait they’ll need the rest of their lives. The deception in perfectionism is that life is happier if it’s done exactly “my” way. However, that’s not the way life really works. Imagine someone who walks away from people, straining relationships merely because he sees flaws in other people. No happy ending exists there. 

Flexibility can be taught in everyday situations. Don’t feed perfectionism; it only makes the attitude worse. If she throws a temper tantrum because she wanted the pink dress instead of the purple one, stand your ground. Don’t give in. The parent and child will be happier down the road if you fight the battles early.

Set Realistic Expectations
Some children place unnecessary stress on themselves because their expectations are too high. When a child thinks everything has to be perfect, he is destined for disappointment. In worst-case scenarios, children experience physical ills (i.e. headaches, shortness of breath) due to their self-imposed stress. In other cases, kids want to quit because the task turned out to be more difficult than they imagined.

Help your child set realistic goals. Aim for gradual improvements rather than an immediate jump to the top of the class. Whether the venue is school grades, karate class, soccer team, or another childhood interest, show them that you value their great efforts. Direct them to focus more on what you value (perseverance), not their self-imposed goals. It will also help deter them from stressing themselves or just quitting altogether.

Mind your Example
Some perfectionists learn these traits honestly -- from their parents. When parents confuse mountains and molehills, expect children to have difficulty taming their expectations. When everything at home is high stakes, the stress level in the home will be highly unhealthy. If spilling a glass of milk causes the same reaction out of mom or dad as disobedience, what type of message has been sent to the kids? Must everything be perfect? Can honest mistakes ever be made without the death penalty being issued?

Be commended for aiming high for your kids, but don’t confuse perfectionism with high standards. Aiming high is expecting children to make a mess, and then expecting them to clean it up. Perfectionism emerges when nothing is permitted because it might go wrong.

Everyone has preferences, but the perfectionist lacks flexibility. Everyone has molehills to cross, but the perfectionist only sees mountains. Our goal should not be to convert our ambitious perfectionist into an indifferent bystander. Let’s help them trim their expectations for life, steering their natural drive into something realistic.