When they hold their new baby in our arms for the very first time, most parents make a solemn vow that they are going to give them the very best start in life. They feel that this means that this tiny new being needs to be exposed to every positive opportunity if they are going to succeed in life.
Oh how wrong we can be.
Because we immediately become guilty of putting too much pressure on our child? Trying to shape their lives to follow our dream – not theirs.
Recent studies have revealed that 20% of our children are suffering from such high levels of anxiety that they should be receiving psychiatric treatment.
On the other hand, many parents have strong views on a different sort of childhood; one that they believe will be best for their little ones. They are determined that their children should enjoy those early years and imagine them playing in the garden, building dens and hunting for fairies. They strongly believe that having fun is what childhood is all about, not being force-fed activities, clubs and directed play.
They want their children to learn at their own pace, and develop their own tastes and interests. They provide plenty of play-dough, paints, building blocks and dressing up clothes and leave them to their own devices and imagination.
But sad to say, life does not always follow the intended path.
Within precious few years, life becomes ruled by the clock and a calendar crammed with pre-school or after school activities. Both child and parents slowly become stressed, over-stretched, overtired and over pushed.
Why is it that parents who set out with the very best intentions, feel obliged to buckle under to ‘fit in’ with all the other families they know? It often begins when children start school. The so-called ‘hot housed’ children may appear ‘streets ahead’ having learned a variety of skills from pre-school activities and classes.
This is where guilt sets in.
Parents begin to wonder… ‘have I neglected my child’s development?’ …even though their children are happy, sociable, contented with a plethora of basic skills. But is this enough in today’s highly competitive world? Panic sets in and parents feel that their children have to play ‘catch up’ – fast.
This is where misguided but good intentions can frequently cause problems.
Before they know it, parents have their children enrolled in as many after school and holiday classes as they can muster; swimming, dancing, gymnastics and art etc. The kids may appear to ‘get used to it’, but to what detriment to family and social life?
I have often heard parents at the school door trying to arrange an afternoon when their children can just get together and play or go to a party. Sometimes the date has to be set weeks ahead because of all the packed diaries.
But there comes a time when children arrive home from swimming or gym, shattered. They barely have the energy to eat their tea and are too tired for their bath or bedtime story. It becomes obvious that these are not children feeling healthily tired after hours of play. The weary symptoms and short temper they are displaying are more akin to mental and physical exhaustion.
They no longer have the energy to do the things they loved.
We have allowed – even encouraged our children to suffer this stress.
Hopefully this is when truly caring parents realise that in their effort to play ‘catch up’ they are actually taking a backward step. Once again guilt steps in and you wonder why you have done this to your child.
Take a look back on your own childhood.
There were few or no distractions of ‘desirable activities’ so you learned to entertain yourself. (This is a skill which many children no longer possess and the reason, I often think, why they get into trouble when there is nothing or no one to entertain them.)
Reading was a pleasure not a wearisome task that had to be crammed in between other appointments. Remember the magical moments you planned for yourself; gathering friends to climb trees, make a den, act a play in the back garden. Activities that were special because you had organised them yourself, in your own time and at your own speed. You had the time and space to follow your dreams, but how can our children EVER do that if we don’t give them the time and space.
Now, I’m not saying that there is no place for after school activities. I firmly believe that every child should learn to swim and be given the opportunity to follow a special talent. What I do feel is that we should keep things in proportion rather than trying to keep up with pressure we impose on ourselves through misguided guilt.