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Health & Parenting

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Young and Stressed-Out

Time to Be Children continued...

Gurian says that the current trend to have children scheduled to attend near-constant structured activities -- soccer practice, music lessons, play dates, gymnastics, volunteer activities -- can be fine for children who enjoy a high level of stimulation. But for children who are less outgoing or have less interest in social stimulation, a heavily scheduled lifestyle can create significant stress.

"Many kids won't come to a parent and say, 'I'm feeling overwhelmed by all this activity,'" he says. "Stress in children tends to manifest itself physically. A kid with asthma who is under stress may start having more attacks or more severe attacks. The same is true of allergies and stomach disorders."

Other warning signs of stress include sudden changes in sleeping habits, increased irritability, and fatigue.

Overscheduled Parents

"Sometimes parents are overscheduled themselves," says Haller. "And these parents may [without being aware of it] have a tendency to get their kids into a lot of activities in order to cover for their own absence."

Gurian agrees. "The parents' schedule and lifestyle has the biggest effect on a child's needs," she says. "Parents need to be aware of their own needs and pay attention to the fact that they are in large measure forming or strongly influencing their children's needs."

Another motivating factor for overscheduling may come from parents' desire for the child to be well-rounded. But it may be smarter in the long run to let children focus on activities they feel strongly about rather than expose them to too many activities.

"People are thinking about their kids' resumes earlier and earlier," says Haller. "They may be driven to more and more activities in hopes of improving the child's ability to be accepted into schools. If kids truly want to participate, that's great, but if there is resistance on the child's part, then that is something to pay attention to."

In the end, what's overscheduling for one child or family, may be underscheduling for another, say these experts. That's why this problem is ideally suited to be worked out as a family.

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