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Anxiety in Children: Too Many Kids Activities

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Is your child being over-scheduled? Can too many kids activities produce stress and anxiety in children? Help for parents right here.

Parents write: So many of our friends are enrolling their young children in classes and activities. We are unsure about it. Are the rewards worth the risks?

Children and Anxiety: How Many Kids Activities Are Too Much

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Recent headlines have identified a growing trend among today's parents who wish to provide boosts to their children's intellectual, athletic, musical, or artistic potentials. Tutoring for toddlers, after school enrichment, early sports specialization, and other classes have captured the attention of many overeager parents. In turn, many pediatric healthcare professionals have voiced serious concerns about the pressures imposed upon fragile egos, emotional health and parent-child relationships.

It's easy for parents to be persuaded to jump on the bandwagon of turning their progeny into "busy achievers" since so many others are doing the same. Signs of stress in children are easily ignored as children trade free time for scheduled activities and accomplishments. Here are some warning signs of anxiety in children to heed and what to do to reduce anxiety and stress in children:

Busy is not always better. Parents who proudly boast about the many activities filling up their children's weekly calendar may be overlooking the costs. Children's creative, intellectual, and social skills need open-ended time to explore and soar. Insufficient opportunity can lead to extreme unevenness and gaps in a child's development. This may be revealed by the child who avoids unstructured play, engages in an overly intellectual style of interaction with playmates, or shows disdain for "little kid" interests and discussions that are actually very age-appropriate. Such signs may signal the need to scale back structured activities in favor of old fashioned playtime.

Parents need to ensure that their own needs are not the ones really being served. Some parents treat their children as narcissistic extensions, hoping to acquire the lost opportunities of their own childhood. Even young children pick up on the personal stake the parent places in their being a "super kid." This may lead to negativity and tension in the relationship, and/or manipulation on the child's part. Watch out if they threaten to withhold participation in the activity as a way of getting something in return. Alternately, children may worry that a parent will not forgive them for wanting to quit since they know how much the parent's emotional investment is on the line. Either way, the seeds of emotional problems take root.

Brittle moods may betray bitterness under the surface. Some children want so desperately to shine in their parents' eyes that they won't dare openly voice mixed or negative feelings about their "activity life." Rather than express negativity about their activities, feelings get re-routed. Complaints about the parent's cooking, driving, or comments may be a disguised, and even unconscious, way to communicate that they have had it with always submitting to goals set by parents. If these signs appear, consider mentioning to them that you're noticed they are more irritable these days and you wonder if it's connected to all they do after school.

Consider giving them more control over their life. Even young children need a sense of autonomy to help them build a robust and well-rounded character. Parents assume that they know best when sometimes they just plain don't. If children ask to skip the next session, delay beginning lessons, or simply quit something underway, parents should give their wishes serious consideration. Ask them to explain their reasons, offer understanding, and ensure that they recognize the tradeoffs of their decision. Even if parents disagree, the lessons learned from sitting out a session may in the long run create more intrinsic interest in various pursuits.

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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