Healthy Kids    

Child Behavior: When did my children become busier than I am!?

When I was a youngster, as soon as I came home from school, I changed into my jeans and went out to play. The choices of games and activities available were endless. We developed our own structure for new activities and solved the numerous problems that developed when children play together, without a supervising adult.

Today, parents are structuring a multitude of activities for their children, and because of this, independent playtime is sacrificed. Rather than tearing off their school clothes and running out to play, today’s kids need to check the family planner to answer the simple question, “Can I go play?”

Why rush?

In his ground breaking work, Dr. David Elkind discovered the “Hurried Child Syndrome,” a term used for children with schedules resembling spreadsheets for corportate takeover! Dr. Elkind believes these overbooked kids have no time to discover themselves.

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Many educators and psychologists are concerned that schedules and supervision have frequently replaced spontaneity and autonomy. These regimens and the high expectations for children are producing passive and pressured kids. Those “hurried children” are forgetting how to have fun and may be losing their creativity along the way.

Relax and don’t stress!

Most parents have the best of intentions. As one mother put it, “You want your child to have everything you never had.” One thing is for sure, by “overbooking” children, you are also giving the children something you probably did not have when you were younger; stress- related disorders.

Psychologists are treating more children for stress than ever before. Children now suffer the effects of over programming and are literally exhausted from their commitments. They may also lose interest in activities previously enjoyed because of the schedules, lessons, events, and even school.

Focus on family time

Family relationships also appear to be damaged by running from one scheduled activity to another. There is simply no down time for children to just be themselves. When are you supposed to have a heart-to-heart with your child? Surely not in-between the sports your child must play and the lessons you paid an arm and a leg for! If your child does not have the time to talk to you during their daily routine, then you are missing out on a crucial part of your parental relationship.

What needs to be noted  is that we are forgetting that parents mean the world to the kids and without that time to get to know one another, everything we do to fill their schedules loses effectiveness.

Parents should recognize that some children thrive on a busier schedule, while others may be overwhelmed by a busy schedule.

Tips to prevent overbooking

1. Ask questions. Each night when your child gets home, ask him what he learned at baseball practice. Did he learn a valuable lesson in team work today? Be sure to congratulate him on new skills learned.

2. Share perspectives. Remind your children that you are giving them these opportunities so they can grow as a person. It’s also important to listen to your child’s point of view. If he cannot see the benefit in piano lessons, he may not get as much out of the experience.

3. Let your child decide. If your child tells you “enough is enough,” you must respect their wishes. Let him figure out what he’d like to do after school on his own. Maybe he just wants some free time to take a breather.

4. Work in free play. Understand that free play is important to a child’s growth in a multiplicity of areas. Free play allows your child to be resourceful and creative. Allot time for free play each day.

5. Revisit your childhood. Revisit your own childhood and remember those wonderful, unstructured summer days and the fun  you had after school “lost” in play until the dinner bell sounded.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology and education at Mount St. Mary College.

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