When it comes to parenting, I think we can all agree that our behavior and choices are well-intentioned. But how do we know our well-intentioned parenting approach is actually doing any good? Conflicting research has led to a generation of confused parents.
First of all, who can blame you for being confused? Have you seen the parenting section in your local bookstore or favorite news publication? You’ll find titles and headlines such as, “The Overscheduled Child,” “Pressured Parents, Stressed Out Kids,” and of course right next to those titles lies this one: “The Overscheduled Child Myth.”
As a therapist (and fellow mama) whose job it is to stay up-to-date on the research, I find myself frustrated as well.
So, let’s clear the air.
How do you know when you’ve crossed over from providing your child with enriching opportunities to morphing into a hard-driving, ivy-seeking drill sergeant?
As a general rule, the goal is balance. The problem lies in the fact that as parents, we’ve forgotten how to balance enrichment activities with down time. It seems that parents of young children are more flexible with down time or free play, but as children get older, their schedules become packed with structured activities meant to teach a specific skill.
This shift has been linked to increasing pressure to give kids a competitive edge in sports or academics, which isn’t a bad thing in totality, but sometimes it can go too far.
Check out my short-list of signs to look out for:
PROBLEM: You have become obsessed with evaluating your child’s performance in every activity.
REASON: Children know when they’re being evaluated and this can exacerbate stress/anxiety. You may be inadvertently projecting your career mentality onto your child and taking their performance too seriously. Extracurricular activities should expose your child to a variety of possible interests and give them opportunities to develop their self-esteem, social skills, and passions. Check in with yourself on the goal of your child’s involvement in each activity - is it for them? Or for you? Are they consistently fighting you when it’s time for piano lessons or skipping excitedly to the door when their instructor arrives?
PROBLEM: Your child’s grades are dropping and you immediately sign them up for tutoring.
REASON: Overscheduled children are at risk for getting inadequate sleep each night, which compounds over time. Their drop in grades may have nothing to do with a lack of knowledge, and more related to fatigue, stress, and unhappiness. Before blaming their effort or intelligence and scheduling them for yet another appointment each week, have a conversation with them. Be curious about the reason for their drop in grades and keep an open mind when they start talking before assuming you already know the answer. Creating a collaborative plan with your child to get more Zzz's each week might solve this problem and save your kid from unnecessary tutoring.
PROBLEM: You are feeling burnt out from managing your child’s busy schedule and getting them to multiple activities each day on time. Oh yeah, and making sure you’re a top performer at work too!
REASON: You are part of a generation of parents that has been lead to believe that more is better. So naturally, you want to give your kid the best. The more activities he/she is enrolled in, the better job you are doing as a parent. Right? WRONG! The concept of play has been transformed into something that must be structured, assessed, expert-endorsed, adult-led and paid for. And the sheer number of these activities that have infiltrated your and your child’s calendar is deflating your ability to enjoy parenthood. Not to mention you are role-modeling a lifestyle of stress that your children are absorbing on a daily basis.
I doubt this is what you were going for when you first laid eyes on your newborn and imagined your future as a parent.
Everyone wants to be a good parent. But we need to give ourselves permission to reject the parental pressure to focus solely on our child’s achievement and future high school/college application stats. It’s time to re-write our definition of success and give our children a childhood that has room for exploration, imagination, mistakes, freedom, and happiness.
If you feel like you’ve gone off the deep end with overscheduling your kids, don’t worry. There is always an opportunity to make changes. Start with something basic, like a “no activity” day twice each month. Or have an honest conversation with your kids about how they feel about each activity and set a limit on how many is a healthy amount to have in the schedule each week or season. Make time for unstructured playdates with friends that allow kids to forget about the schedule and get lost in the wonderful world of play!
Talia Filippelli, LCSW, CHHC, CPT is a licensed psychotherapist, certified holistic health coach, certified personal trainer, the Chief Happiness Officer at Starr Therapy in Hoboken, and a mom of two. She has been featured on CBS News as a mental health expert and was voted a Top Kids Doc by NJ Family Magazine in 2014, 2015 and 2016!
For more information on Talia or Starr Therapy, visit: Starr Therapy, LLC