Stress and Your Child

Todayís children have more opportunities than ever before. However, along with these opportunities come increased responsibilities and stress.

Examples of stress-inducers are everywhere. In families where both parents work, children are expected to respond to adult schedules. Day-care and before- and after-school programs abound. Schoolwork is more advanced than ever. Even childrenís sports teams are modeled after the pros.

Itís natural for parents to want the best for their children and to give them the opportunities they didnít have. But in their effort to raise well-rounded children, many parents may unknowingly burden their children with expectations that create excessive stress. Although their efforts are well-meaning, parents need to make sure their childrenís lives arenít just full, but also balanced.

Children arenít miniature adults. They have their own needs and limited capabilities to cope with the adult world. As Dr. David Elkind wrote in his book The Hurried Child: ďChildren need time to grow up, to learn and to develop. To treat them differently from adults is not to discriminate against them but rather to recognize their special estate.Ē

Watch for these signs and consult your doctor for help, if needed. You also can consider these stressful aspects of your childís life and take steps to reduce this stress yourself.

Most parents want their children to do well in school. They give their babies educational toys to develop skills needed later in life. Some parents even teach their preschoolers to read so theyíll have a head start in kindergarten. Once in school, children are given standardized tests to measure intelligence and academic progress, and assigned grades.

Parents can help ease some of the stress from school by understanding and accepting their childrenís academic strengths and weaknesses. Donít expect your son to excel in areas in which he isnít as capable. Donít punish him for receiving bad grades. Instead, encourage him to try his best.

Give your child guidelines and expectations ó but let her be a child. Allow breathing room. Encourage your child to have fun learning; after all, learning is a lifelong process.

Whether itís a soccer team, dance or piano lessons, most children are involved in at least one activity outside of school. But too many activities can be stressful to a child, even when they are activities she enjoys.

In choosing activities for your children, let their skills and interests be your guide. Itís good to try different things, but give your children choices that cater to their strengths, instead of areas in which they just aren't good.

In most cases, a weakness will never become a strength. For example, giving piano lessons to a tone-deaf child may not build a musical ear ó it could be a chore. Activities should be ego-building, not frustrating.

Ask yourself, ďWhat is my child like? Whatís she good at?Ē ďWhat are her interests?Ē Make your decisions from those answers, not from your own expectations. Ask your child what he wants to do, and then listen carefully.

Strive for a balance too. Itís often OK to do nothing. Some of the most creative inventions have come from uncluttered time. An overscheduled child doesnít learn what to do with idle time: how to explore, imagine or just hang out.

You can avoid overloading your childís day by rotating her activities throughout the year, rather than doing everything at once. If youíre rushing to get from one activity to the next, your child is overbooked.

Donít lose the fun. And donít schedule your child out of your own life. Families need to spend time together ó and that doesnít mean being in the car driving from activity to activity.

Everyone in the family should have responsibilities. For example, itís a good idea to give your children chores ó it gives them the sense that they are part of something important and makes them feel good about making a contribution. But beware of heaping on responsibilities they arenít ready for, even if it makes your busy life easier.

In an effort to respect their childrenís feelings, parents too often allow them to make decisions they are neither old enough nor mature enough to make. Letting a child decide what he wants for dinner is one thing; deciding which third-grade teacher would be better is another. Donít talk over adult matters with your children or expect them to accept the responsibility for adult decisions.

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