Lots of initiatives have backfired in the name of good parenting, but perhaps none as ubiquitous in Hong Kong parenting as the over-scheduled child. Dr. Hugh-Pennie breaks down the checks and balances for families interested in being supportive rather than add to student stress while maximising time and opportunity in her blog entry.
Here are some ways to determine if your child is doing too much and what you can do about it. Use some of these guidelines to judge for yourself. Often, the best place to start is by asking your child how she feels about how much she is doing. Teachers are also a good resource as they spend a lot of time with your child and can tell you how your child may be affected in class.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your child to find out if he is overloaded or working within his stride:
1. Does your child have the ability to complete the current level of academic work to a proficient level within given deadlines?
While having extra-curricular activities are important, if it is to the detriment of academic work, the student will be cheating themselves in the long run.
2. Does your child have the desire to participate in activities without prompting (meaning, self-initiated based on personal interests) ?
Many teachers, parents and the student themselves often recognize a student’s potential and aspire to provide additional challenges or they may challenge themselves. As long as participation and enrolment in events, competitions and other enrichment activities are more often initiated by the child, then you know that you are helping your child support his/her interests.
Adults may provide information about opportunities for growth but the student must be the one to pursue them. If pushed too often and too far the student may eventually develop feelings of anxiety about performance, burnout and/or, choose to rebel by underachieving and or developing a negative attitude towards intellectual pursuits.
3. Does your child spend enough time engaging in family, social and leisure activities?
The social and emotional well-being of each individual is important to learn a healthy balance in life and lifestyle. The ability to socially engage others, relax and spend leisure time with family and friends will allow for a feeling of safety and comfort in times of high stress or anxiety around individual goals and pursuits.
4. Does your child maintain healthy eating habits and sleep routines?
The developing brain require good nutrition and sleep. Lack of sleep and poor nutrition lead to an inability to focus, retain information and decrease in energy levels necessary to achieve academically and interact socially.
In my experience, many students with high intellectual ability have difficulty sleeping as they may at times feel anxious about deadlines, current activities and/ or find it hard to “shut down” their thoughts in the evening. In such instances, you may try the following three tactics for healthy sleep:
A. Switching off
Lack of sleep is often attributed to overstimulation and the use of computers, iPads, gaming systems tend to stimulate neurons in the brain and make it difficult to achieve a state of calm before sleep. Turning off all electronic devices 1 to 2 hours before bedtime and easing into sleep time is a good strategy. For those who enjoy reading and/or listening to music these are activities that are better suited to achieving a good night’s sleep.
The use of music or white noise to assist in tuning out environmental noise or achieving a restful state in order to prepare for sleep.
There are many ways to meditate that do not involve long periods of focus on “nothingness.” If your child is enrolled in martial arts this may already be a regular practice. However, for many who are not, there are many apps, books and videos that have been developed to assist in this practice “i.e. guided meditation”.
If you have tried all of the tactics above, you may want to consider consulting with your child’s physician as it may be indicative of a possible sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or chemical imbalances that can often be reversed through cognitive behavioral practices, changes to diet, exercise and or the use of natural supplements.
Most importantly, always remember to check in with your child. Ask them how they feel about upcoming activities, academic deadlines and other obligations. Take note of their general mood, energy level, excitability around specific activities and our anxiety around others. Use these markers to tell you when to make adjustments or changes to routines and schedules.