by the Rev. Peter K. Stimpson
QUESTION: Oh God, the kids are going back to school, and schlepping them from activity to activity has them and me absolutely overloaded! Can you help me?
1. STRESS IN MY CHILD? Are you pushing your child too hard? Some parents, with the best of intentions, may unwittingly overschedule their children in the hope of giving them an edge over their peers in our competitive society. Sadly, one out of three children suffer from stress-related illnesses.
2. SIGNS OF OVERLOAD: The goal is not to avoid structured time, but rather to not overdo it. Here are some behavioral signs of overload: physical symptoms (headache, stomachache), being tired and falling asleep in class, being irritable and agitated, grades dropping, cheating on tests, less interest in activities, preferring to stay home, and being more dependent on you.
a. Find a Balance: Limit the number of activities, providing time to play and just “be a kid.”
b. Realize the Benefits of Play: Encourages creativity and independent problem solving, improves social skills, and relieves stress.
c. Take a Day of Rest: Make one day per week free of activities, giving you and your children a well-deserved break — sort of a non-religious Sabbath.
d. Choose Gifted Programs that are Gifted: More work, but less creativity, will make matters worse.
e. Choose Sports that Build Self-Esteem: While teaching teamwork and cooperation are fine, equating worth with performance and having a coach or teammates who berate your child are not. Ask your child the simple question: Are you having fun?
f. Examine Yourself: Is your child overloaded because you are overloaded? Consider escaping pressure yourself rather than feeding it to your child. Being pushed to be the smartest, most athletic, fashionable, thin, and popular kid in the class has been shown to push kids away from being happy. Perhaps examining your own view of life might help.