There seems to be a quest to make childhood look like adulthood. Children have adult schedules. They run from school to this lesson to that appointment at younger and younger ages. There is no time for the real work of childhood – playing. It is through play that they become critical thinkers and not from adult driven lessons. The demands of increased standardized testing has forced younger children to be sitting at desks trying to master skills that they are not developmentally ready to accomplish. Kindergarteners are expected to master what we did in 1st grade. Children in 1st grade are doing typical 2nd grade skills. By the time they reach high school, the students feel society’s pressure to take more Advanced Placement courses than they actually can cope with or that they need to succeed. No one can do anything for the love of it. The children need to qualify for the elite team when they play a sport or take lessons. The fact that they are not yet emotionally mature enough to deal with all of this pressure and competition isn’t taken into consideration.
Dare to be that parent who limits your child’s stress. Look at your child’s life and do the hard work of considering:
- Does my child’s schedule leave time for childhood? Going from one adult driven activity to another is not childhood. Childhood gives time for free exploration and discovery. It allows for time to imagine and create.
- Does my child compete during every activity in the week? Look at the schedule to find non-competitive activities – no grades, no team, no way to fail. Children are not emotionally mature enough to handle full days of needing to avoid failure. They need activities during which there is no pass or fail. They need to do things that are pure enjoyment.
- Does my child’s schedule teach my child about balance and self-care? Stressed out children grow up to be stressed out adults. Today, adults flock to yoga, massages and meditation centers to step away from stress and find some balance, but they don’t teach balance to their children. They seek it for themselves between running children from one pressure filled event to another. Teach your children to care for their emotional health by balancing their schedules and carefully considering if another activity or advanced class really matters.
- Do my child’s activities take the future into consideration? Who do I want my child to be? Children may play a sport for a while or dance for a while or perform for a while but they will be other things their whole lives – citizens, community members, family members. They need to be given the tools to help them navigate their whole lives and not just the next few years. Your values need to be demonstrated by the choices you help them make about how to spend their time. Prioritize based on what you really want them to value when they are your age. Do you want them to carry on your culture, do for those less fortunate or care about politics or social issues? You need to make those activities a priority from the time they are very young.
- And finally the last, most difficult question – Are my expectations and decisions based more on my child’s needs or my own insecurities? We all want our children to have an easier time than we did. Parents who had trouble making friends will naturally want an easier and more popular path for their children. Parents who didn’t excel at a task will naturally enjoy watching their children succeed. It may be natural to see our children as an extension of ourselves and to live our childhoods again through them, but it is not at all healthy. Your children are not you. The adults’ need to see their children succeed where they did not actually does the opposite of your intent. It doesn’t create an easier life for them. It adds pressure that has no connection to them and who they are in this world. Parents need to consider their actions. Think, reflect and be intentional. Know when you are pushing because of your own insecurities and stop.
Loving our children means daring to say no when they don’t know their own limits. It means demonstrating values by prioritizing them. It means giving them tools for the future and not just today. Loving our children means being thoughtful and intentional parents who know when to say, “No. That’s enough. This isn’t healthy for you.”
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