Time-Starved Kids in a Hustle-Bustle World
Jennifer Naparstek Klein Psy.D.
Many of us experience the daily pressures of living in a hutsle-bustle world, and know very well the resulting stress. We are great multi-taskers, shifting from one activity and one responsibility to the next — sometimes flawlessly often frantically. As parents, we want our children to thrive in our hustle-bustle world, and we hope that they will excel in most, or at least some of what they dol. Hoping that they will have soaring self esteems, we fill their weekly schedules with what we believe are the building blocks for future achievement. In addition to school, there are practices and games for sports, music lessons, religious instruction, dance classes, tutoring, martial arts, art, drama, “play-dates,” ad the list goes on. Often we hear the plaintive cry, “Please can I just watch some T.V?” or “Can I skip practice today?” These cries instill great fear and anxiety in parents, as we ponder a most dreaded thought, “Am I raising a couch-potato?” Many of us strongly believe that encouraging our children to attend each and every practice teaches them respect for coaches, teammates, and most importantly, the valued character trait of perseverance.
While it is true that part of our responsibility as parents is to teach the lesson of perseverance, equally valuable life lesson is one of self-preservation (which we frequently fail miserably at achieving for ourselves, while we succeed quite well at many other pursuits). This concept of self-preservation involves a conscious effort to protect ourselves from over-commitment and unrealistic expectations that can erode our health and well-being. As adults, we spend a lot of time and money on self-preservation once a heavy dose of perseverance has taken its toll. A balance of these two skills may be part of the recipe for success and happiness.
In addition to perseverance and self-preservation, there are other critical building blocks for future happiness that are often cultivated right at home. In The Stress-Proof Child, authors Saunders and Remsberg state, “Troubled children are not troubled by stress itself, they are troubled by their own feelings of isolation.” Interestingly, individuals can feel isolated while living in a house full of people. When families function less as a family unit, and more as a group of family members leading parallel lives, a child’s sense of isolation can develop. Children gain character strength form feeling known and understood. Having companionship and intimacy supports us through the most difficult challenges in life. Family time builds the foundation for one’s ability to cultivate that level of closeness with others. The sense of isolation inherent in leading parallel lives with those closest to us can be stress-enhancing. Children are fueled by togetherness — an essential psychological building block. In the development of a positive self-concept validation by parents often translates into a child’s sense of herself as acceptable, lovable, and effective. We offer our children validation through listening and touching. Feeling heard and feeling held are tow critical psychological building blocks, both cultivated primarily in a home that provides time for connection.
In imagining the “just right” amount of activity and extra-curricular stimulation, think of Goldilocks. Goldilocks clearly preferred all things in moderation. Moderation allowed her to eat well, sleep well, rest for a while in a comfortable chair . . . sounds good, right? Modeling and encouraging moderation teaches children the very important skill of self-preservation. Scheduling “down time” reinforces the necessary psychological building blocks for future happiness and success. When children feel stimulated in a balanced manner, they are the most productive, least prone to illness, generally happier, and generally less frustrated and irritable. As a by-product, parents often feel less frazzled, and experience a sense of relief at “letting one sport go,” or canceling one dance class per week. Maybe one afternoon each week with a child at home will allow for that much needed conversation or just simple relaxation time together. In this hustle-bustle world, it is every parent’s task to find the balance that, for his or her child, feels “just right.”