When we think of childhood, we think of happiness, care free living, laughter and creativity, and PLAY, not stress. However, children's lives are moving at a rapid pace and they are feeling pressure to keep up. Parents, wanting to do the best for their children, and experiencing the competition, are pushing their children to learn earlier and to achieve more. Homework loads are increasing and sometimes parents are doing more than just "helping" kids get better marks. Tutoring centres are popping up on every corner. Early learning centres emphasize early literacy. Toddlers are being taught to read with flash cards and proud parents beam when their efforts succeed in expediting their children's literacy skills in kinder-garden.
Is there really an advantage to all the achievement emphasis we are placing on our children? Can parents and school sustain it? What is the experience of children being pushed to achieve at an early age? Despite parental feelings, the research in Psychology suggests that all this hurrying and busying of children's lives not only leads to feelings of being stressed and unhappy, it does NOT lead to later achievement. In fact, pushing and rewarding children to achieve academic milestones earlier than they are ready can lead to lack of motivation later in school life. Developmental research suggests that children be allowed to seek out what interests them and to learn by play for the first few years of life, to learn from experience. This is particularly true for boys, who need more hands on learning. In fact, the brain is wired to seek out appropriate play and experience in order to maximize its own growth in the early years. Motivational research suggests that rewarding children for something that they should be naturally enthusiastic about actually takes away from their intrinsic motivation in the long run. In other words, pushing and praising kids to achieve earlier and to achieve more only hurts them down the road. In terms of stress, when a person feels that the demands being placed on exceed their ability to meet the demands, they are going to have a physiological and psychological stress response.
So what do we do to manage children's experience of stress? We can teach anxiety coping skills in therapy, or even in the classroom. Or, more radically, we could consider lightening the load, letting go of the pressure to compete, and allowing them to PLAY. Creativity grows from the freedom to play and explore. When, however, anxiety has become severe, it is important to seek out Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help teach a child to manage their stress response. Please feel free to contact me to inquire about CBT Groups for kids Grade 3-5 that teach stress management and coping skills.