This article first appeared on Your Tango and has been republished with permission.
Have you noticed how stressed out kids are these days? Parents, teachers and child development professionals all comment about their kids dealing with anxiety at increased levels, and it seems the American Psychological Association agrees. Our kids are struggling, and anxiety in children is on the rise.
So, what the heck is going on? Parents report an increase in school work, school pressure, test anxiety, sports involvement, as well as increased pressure toward making an athletic team, extracurricular activities to improve college applications, prep for college entrance exams to attend better colleges, and improve physical attractiveness and popularity.
We actually have the power to learn how to deal with anxiety and change the madness that is threatening to end childhood for our children, and to increase their stress and anxiety before they even are old enough to drink alcohol. What can we do as parents? We can say no.
Here are a few ways for you to stop the anxiety madness for your children:
1. Set a reasonable bedtime.
Yes, you heard me right. Let your children not complete their homework, or do their homework earlier so they can prioritize the life-fulfilling need of sleep.
Our children are sleep deprived. Sleep deprived children (and adults) are more anxious, stressed out, less productive, and likely to make mistakes. Why would sleep ever be optional for your growing children and their developing brains?
Parents, toughen up and set a bedtime. Keep electronics, school books, and other distractions out of their room. Set a lights out time and let your children get the rest they need.
2. Say no to coaches and teams with ridiculous scheduling.
We need to step in when athletic programs have gone off the deep end. My youngest child had the choice to try out for two different club volleyball teams. One team practices daily and wins tournaments almost every weekend, while the other team practices two times a week, plays in only two tournaments a month, and often comes in second place.
I'm a wiser mother now than I was with my first two children, and we picked the second team. We want family time, dinners together, and some lazy weekends that consist of movies and wearing pajamas.
No, my son is unlikely to get a volleyball scholarship or become a professional volleyball player. But he will remember family dinners, time with his siblings and dog, hanging out with friends, and boredom.
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3. Stop the extracurricular madness.
Seriously, stop it now. There is no reason your child needs to belong to 20 clubs in order to prove themselves worthy of a college. Let them pick one club that they love, get good at it, see the value of contributing, and then come home and be with their family.
Let your kids find activities and charities that mean something to them and contribute in a way that is honest and valuable.
4. Say no to standardized testing.
Or find a way to help your child around the anxiety of taking those tests. This is a tough one because there is a lot of pressure on teachers to give these tests, even if they don't agree with giving children so many. Do your best to explain to your child that the tests are simply a measure versus a judgment.
Don't push your children to "study" for standardized tests, and don't make a big deal out of their scores, either way. If this is a big anxiety provoker for your child, talk to the teacher and principal to discuss options for your child.
5. Debunk the Ivy League school myth.
There are thousands of colleges in this country and almost any one of them will be just fine for your child. When did we become a country that believes the nonsense that only a handful of colleges are worthy of our little angels? High school students (and often their parents) are so obsessed with getting into the absolute best colleges that they give up the joy that comes with a fun high school experience.
Look around you, parents — there are thousands of successful adults in this country who did not go to Ivy League schools. Your children will have a far better chance at success if they hit adulthood with their emotional and physical health in tact. Prioritize.
I often ask new parents to think ahead to the day when their child launches into the world, and what qualities they want their children to have by that day. Parents never tell me they want their children stressed out, filled with anxiety, burnt out, and miserable.
They tell me they want happy, well-rounded, young adults who are productive, finding their purpose in life, and surrounding themselves with healthy relationships. They want kind, loving, and purposeful children.