Trying Too Hard to Parent. Part 2

Scheduling Too Many Activities
Overscheduling a child is a hallmark of hyper-parenting. After school activities are OK as long as the child’s not lined up from 3 to 9 p.m. with no time to just sit around and think or do nothing. In his years of practicing psychiatry, Rosenfeld has learned that children just want to hang out with their parents, playing cards or Monopoly.
“Why are we racing so much?” Rosenberg asked. “You can achieve more by doing less.”

Nancy W. Hall, a developmental psychologist and consultant at the Bush Center at Yale University, says that yes, we are asking our kids to do more at an earlier age than we were asked by our parents. And to children, that can feel like pushing.

But how much is too much? How many activities should you schedule per week for your child? Hall believes that children should have no more than two to three activities a week after school, and the child should choose the sport or class.

“I think a lot of it depends on the norm of where you live and on your child’s personality,” Hall said. “Let your child be your guide.”

Many children live in neighborhoods that aren’t conducive to outside playtime with other kids; the street may be busy, or the other children may be in all-day childcare. After-school activities are sometimes valuable social time — the only time kids get to see their friends.

“My 6-year-old daughter Meg plays baseball and takes ballet,” Hall said. “She chose those activities and it’s an opportunity for her to see her friends.”

How do you know if your child is taking on too much? Look for signs of burnout.

Sleep problems — is your child having trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning?
Is he blowing off activities, “forgetting” to stay after school for play rehearsal?
Is there no family time because of the heavy duty scheduling?
Is she irritable?
Is schoolwork suffering?
“Let your child drop out of an activity if he wants,” Hall said. “We forget these things are supposed to be fun. Our kids don’t have enough downtime.”

Overscheduling your child stifles creativity, said educator Diane Trister Dodge, an author of “Preschool for Parents: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Preschool” (Teaching Strategies, 1999). Studies have shown that students who are gifted creative writers spent many childhood hours in free, imaginative play.

“Some parents believe that, to get ahead, children need a lot of lessons,” Dodge said. “Good, early childhood experiences are what children really need. Children are being programmed instead of allowed to play.”

In her book, written with fellow educator Toni Bickert, Dodge urges parents to choose a non-academic preschool that provides lots of time for play, rather than one that promises to introduce reading and math to your 3-year-old.

In addition to overprogramming, parents are buying their kids too many things, from souped-up strollers in infancy to expensive video games in middle school.

Advice?
Intentionally, the authors of “Hyper-Parenting” don’t tell parents what to do, but point out unhealthy behaviors and beg them to think about passing along morals instead of materialism. Ask yourself the question: “What kind of kid do I want to have?”
As a parenting writer for national magazines, Wise realized that she was contributing to parental anxiety by writing how-to articles.

“There is no right way to get a baby off a bottle or to do any other aspect of parenting,” Wise said. “Parenting is a relationship, a journey.”

When pressed for tips, Rosenfeld suggests giving your child more space and yourself more pleasure, such as remembering to go out with your spouse, alone.

Wise reminds parents to slow down and give their children and themselves time to think. Not every child will get into an Ivy League college, or be an academic and athletic superstar. Different things make different people happy.

So are the authors hyper-parents?

“I’m a hyper-parent in partial recovery,” Rosenfeld said. “The advice in the book is not coming from on high. We’ve made these mistakes and we’re trying to do better.”

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