In this era of the “helicopter parent”, we see plenty of evidence of parents overbooking their children in activities. But the effects of involving your children in too many activities could have health consequences. The stress can lead to anxiety and depression in children.
To help parents avoid this dangerous potential consequence, resident expert on character education for the Wear the Cape Foundation has come up with “5 Tips to Avoid Overbooking Your Kids and Create Life Balance”:
1. Let your kids know that you care about them for who they are, not just what they can do. Children need to know that your love is not contingent on their achievements.
2. Remember that children do not have the same sense of time that you do. Part of growing up is being able to put things in perspective. There will likely be another friend, another team, another trip if this one does not work out.
3. Working hard at something you love to do is one of the best parts of life. It takes some of us a lot of experimenting to find those things we love. Kids need that free time to try new things, as well as the permission to give them up and try something else.
4. Some kids organize their time and find their interests with just a little exposure; other kids may need a bit of a push to try things that don’t seem attractive or interesting (or may be threatening). The trick here is to be sensitive to individual needs and persistent in offering opportunities. If you need to be pushy, try to offer alternatives, so kids have a voice in what they will be doing. For example, some children thrive in competitive sports, and others may find their niche in hiking or dancing.
5. Remember to include exposure to helping others in your family activities. One of the best ways of developing empathy in our children (and ourselves) is to feel the gratitude that is expressed when we help others. This doesn’t happen if we don’t have the opportunity of interacting with others in need or whom we help. This can happen within the context of the family itself, as well, and doesn’t necessarily require a formal charity event. Create opportunities in which children can feel that they have meaningfully helped other family members or the whole family accomplish something. The combination of caring, responsibility, feeling respected, and gratitude is a powerful stew that nourishes the soul.
“When we’re overprogrammed and feel we can’t keep up, or are constantly running on empty, stress can lead to anxiety, depression and take a toll on our minds and bodies,” commented Dr. Brown. “For children, this can surface in many ways – trouble sleeping, frequent irritability, aggressiveness with siblings, trouble in school, moodiness or frequent illness are all common signs that something is not right and needs to be explored.”
To raise children of good character, a combination of guidance, freedom, and support in the context of shared values should be provided, Brown adds.