Kids In Overdrive

We all want our children to be happy, healthy and have the best things that life can afford.  However, there is an alarming trend to outsource our children to excess, especially in competitive communities where a child's success (quantified by "achievements" like speaking early) has become the measure (outcome) of parental accomplishment.  And, despite knowing in their hearts that their family is over-structured, over-programmed and over-scheduled, many parents keep rushing from activity to activity because they fear if they don't, they could compromise their child's future.  Keeping up with The Jones' has taken on a new look - one that now involves their children. 

We labeled this disturbing and often negative phenomenon "Achievement Overdrive" - where every moment of your child's day must be "productive" and with purpose.  However, it might surprise parents to learn that when children are pushed harder and harder to excel and perform, they tend to feel they are not measuring up, become stressed and their ability to cope effectively becomes compromised.  

So how do you know if your child is not coping well with the over-structured schedule?  Here are some common signs to look for: 

Significant changes in normal behavior patterns
Changes in sleep and eating patterns
Complaints of headaches, stomach aches or general malaise
Regressive behavior such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking
Increased nervous habits like nail biting, hair twirling, pulling out hair, etc.
Expression of worry, fears and sadness
Moody, anxious, acting out, or aggressive behavior
Relationship changes within the family and with friends
Decline in school interest accompanied by poor grades 

Like many other habits in life, the anecdote to achievement overdrive is moderation.  Kids can be kept busy without the stress and strain of overload. Children don't have to be busy to be happy. 

Beating the Achievement Overdrive Trap 

If you and your child get caught up in doing something every minute, burnout for everyone is evident. Over-scheduled families will eventually collapse from the stress, pressure, and lack of family cohesiveness.  One of the best gifts you can give your child is teaching her how and when to de-stress, how to relax and unwind, and how to use "free time" to her advantage. 

For younger children: Pick and choose activities carefully and weigh the benefits for your child vs. time spent away from home. Include activities that are family oriented, such as sports where all members can participate. Encourage unstructured play at the local playground and use playgroups as an avenue to meet other children and parents. At home, adhere to guidelines for TV and computer game use. Encourage "free time" for reading, playing games, puzzles, listening to music, and relaxing. It has become a lost art. End the concept that children must always be formally entertained. 

For older children: Set limits and help children make realistic choices as to the number of activities and sports they are involved in. Consideration must be given for homework, family time and friends.  This is a good age to engage your child in charity work, which can also become a family event. Children also need to take part in family chores such as helping with dinner or care of pets and complete individual responsibilities such as homework. 

One last thing to remember is to love your child for who he is not for his accomplishments. Nothing means more to your child then feeling safe, secure and unconditionally loved.

Dr. Jodi Stoner holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and is a licensed Mental Health Counselor. She has worked for over 30 years with families, individuals and couples in parenting, psychotherapy, and life transitions. Dr. Stoner is also an educational specialist with a Master's Degree in Behavior Disorders and practiced in the Georgia and Florida Public School System for 15 years.

Ms. Lori Weiner is a Career Coach with more than 25 years experience as a Career Services Director. She worked as a National Director of Career Services overseeing 27 schools nationwide. Weiner has been awarded numerous performance awards and, in 2003, was a speaker at the Florida Association of Post-Secondary Schools & Colleges Conference in Orlando, Florida.  She continues to mentor new graduates in career development.

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