Looking back, childhood experiences have vastly changed from our time. Change is inevitable, but what about the cost to our children?
Do you remember your childhood? Were they filled with hide-and-seek, skipping ropes, playing tag and card games? Did you play because your parents told you to, or was it more spontaneous, when friends, siblings and cousins just rounded up and played?
Our children are unlikely to share the same childhood we had. Today, the norm for many kids is for them to be shuttled from Taekwondo to swimming or from Math to Speech & Drama classes. Parents become GrabCar Mums and Dads, as we drive our children from one class to another.
As a mother of three myself, I get it. We are raising our children in a different world. We want our children to have the opportunities that our own parents may not have been able to provide us. Academic demands are getting more challenging. We are bombarded with news of child geniuses and teen entrepreneurs who blazed a trail at an unnaturally early age.
However, what is the cost of this new drive to ‘give our children the best head-start’? We start from the right place, but are we charting the right path for each child? Are we placing so many stopovers of non-stop enrichment that we have no time to enjoy the journey?
Signs your child may be overwhelmed
- Anxiety. Is your child showing signs of anxiousness, reluctance to attend a class, or refusing to continue with a programme? Does she suffer from poor sleep? Common signs of anxiety in an overwhelmed child are changes in behaviour/ sleep pattern or inability to concentrate on tasks/ lessons.
- Counter-productive grades. Signing your child up for the best Math tuition class may not result in the grades you hope for. Each child has a different learning style and too much studying can be counter- productive. Rote learning teaches the child to recognise specific questions, but she will be stumped by unfamiliar ones. Endless worksheets may see her kicking back in protest. There is simply no room for her to exhale and take a step back.
- “I’m just not good enough”. This is the inner monologue your child may have, which you may never hear. Being compared to her peers or siblings may cause her to feel as if she will never be able to measure up. Trying to keep up may burn her out and she will start to feel nothing she does is ever good enough.
Every child is different
We recognise that every child is different. Some handle stress better than others, while some need more breathing space.
What can you do to help your child find the right balance?
- More free play. Structured enrichment should not displace free play. Go outdoors and just let your child be. Parents need not supervise every form of play. Children need opportunities to problem-solve and make their own decisions, without a teacher or adult hovering nearby to give suggestions. Find time for playdates with friends or cousins. Group dynamics are a fantastic way for children to learn teamwork.
- Good old-fashioned house chores. Kids today are less likely to be assigned chores. They are either too busy with school and enrichment classes, or often than not, we do everything. House chores are great opportunities for children to learn responsibility and diligence while contributing in a meaningful way to the family. You may be surprised to find your child is eager to help around the home. Helping out with chores provides a natural hum in his rhythm, allowing him to switch off from school demands and homework. Doing dishes or cooking a meal together with your child, also provides a precious opportunity to bond over the day’s events.
- Schedule to un-schedule. This may sound ironic, but perhaps forcing a “no class time” in his schedule is something he needs. Find those pockets of downtime and ring-fence them. No classes, no worksheets, no homework, no competitions. Replace them with less demanding activities – reading, playing board games, watching a movie or going for a walk. Share this ‘un-scheduling’ with your child. When the week gets too much, have him look forward to these periods of free time. Having that goal of downtime can help motivate your child to get through an intensive week.
At times, our desire to give our children the best can lead to unexpected setbacks. An overwhelmed child is not a happy child. Stress and anxiety in children are reaching unprecedented levels. We need to strike the right balance between providing enrichment to expand our child’s potential, but at the same time, we need to know when to pull back when it’s too much.
Understand that each child is unique and some are more ready than others. One of the best quotes that help me realise each child is different is this: Every child has a gift. They just open their gifts at different times of their lives.
An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.