Every good parent knows that providing an enriching environment lays the foundation for future success. Or does it? From summer camp, to instrument lessons, and afterschool programs, how many extracurricular activities are too many and where do parents’ good intentions bleed into something less helpful and even have the unintentional consequence of creating a stressful and anxiety ridden environment for children?
Signs Your Child Is Involved in Too Many Extracurricular Activities
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 5, 2022 anxiety in children, burn out, Child Anxiety, child counseling, children mental health, Extracurricular Activities for Kids, Overscheduled children, parenting, Parenting and Families, stress, stress management, teen anxiety, wellness for kids0 comments
Warning Signs Your Child Is Involved in Too Many Extracurricular Activities
- Listen to your kids and teach your kids to listen to themselves, helping your child to understand and respond to their emotional cues might be more impactful for their future wellbeing than mastering their tennis swing or perfecting their smooth violin strokes.
- Does your child have a lot of tummy aches, headaches, or have excuses when it is time to practice? According to the Centers for Disease Control, these things can be related to Anxiety. If you notice these patterns in your child, it might be time to have a discussion with your child about whether they want to continue to participate in this activity. any longer or a different variation that doesn’t stress outcome or skill.
- Does the child have time to just be? Just be means having free time that is not structured. Overscheduled children also have overscheduled families, this a form of performance based obsessiveness being passed between generations. Does your child have time to themselves everyday? Do you have time together to be a family? Eat meals together? Have conversations or are your moments spent shuffling from one activity to another, eating in the car then heading to bed when you’re home?
- Has your child verbalized that they don’t want to participate in a certain activity? Has this been a source of conflict between you? Many parents who want what’s best for their child insist that they should stick it out and encourage them to continue with the sport, activity, or instrument. The fine art of parenting is to know what is healthy stick-to-itiveness versus what is pushing past a child’s boundaries or neglecting their emotional needs.
What Parents Can Do When Extracurricular Activities Cause Your Child Anxiety?
- Free play as opposed to goal oriented play activities. While goal oriented activities can help a child develop certain skills, when those skills are scrutinized by parents, coaches or teachers, it can lead to self esteem issues, stress, and anxiety. This is especially true around the age of 12 when kids start to compare themselves to their peers in the formation of identity and self concept.
- Children should not have activities everyday or the week. Many people agree 3 is a maximum, if they want to add one activity then ensure that they drop one.
- If you are going to be organized around a schedule, ensure that the schedule includes, downtime, family time (at least 20 minutes everyday) to play a game, sit and talk, draw or paint together.
- When you are enjoying downtime, don’t make it another journey to a destination, don’t ask what they need to do today or tomorrow and pull your children back into planning and coordinating, instead, ask creative questions. Ie. If you were any animal which would you be? What do you think will make you happy in 5 years? Who is your favorite friend right now? What do you dream about at night?
Good behavior starts from the top down. Let your kids see you practicing the art of doing nothing and enjoying it!
Written by: Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC Founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
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News Feature: Signs Your Child Is Involved in Too Many Extracurricular Activities
Healthy Relationship Habits to Encourage in Your Teen
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 29, 2021 healthy relationships, parenting, Parenting and Families0 comments
Nothing can fill a parent with trepidation quite like watching their teenager enter the world of dating.
While you may feel some “mama bear” instincts to shut it down, your teen needs you to be there for them. And they’re probably craving to know (without telling you): what does a healthy relationship actually look like?
Instill these five teachable habits to help your teen build healthy relationships.
Relationships rest on emotions, words, and actions. Teach your teen that emotions can’t be controlled, but words and actions can – and they form the basis of a communication.
Actions communicate broad messages like “I want to be here” or “I like you”. But words are the real powerhouse of healthy communication.
Especially when swept away in the beginning, your teen may feel like they can read their partner’s mind. But at some point, this illusion will end. Hurt feelings often result.
Save your teen trouble by teaching them to air out issues before they happen. Remind them to speak gently when opening a conversation. It helps all parties feel like they can say what’s really on their mind.
If your teen and their girlfriend/boyfriend know where they stand on relationship status, sex, and expectations, to name some heavy-hitters, they can navigate from a thoughtful place.
Clear boundaries set a relationship free. They remove the guesswork. Teach your teen the nuts and bolts of boundary setting in a relationship.
Your sounding board can help them get in touch with their inner voice. Inquire in a helpful way. “Do you want him to text you that much?” “Do you feel ready to take your relationship with her to that level of commitment?” Encourage them to answer from their gut instinct.
Then let them know they can request a boundary directly, i.e. “I only want text a few times a day”. Make it clear that if the person involved with doesn’t respect that boundary, it’s a red flag.
Help your teen understand what constitutes physical and emotional safety in a relationship. Encourage them to take time away from the partner to reflect on how things are going. Remind them that any relationship worth keeping will be there when they return.
Highlight the difference between safe and unsafe. Safe should feel comfortable, open, trusting, unpressured, and generally easy. Unsafe situations will evoke feelings of pressure, hiding, secrets, shame, and general ickiness.
Vulnerability and Intimacy
Your teen may feel nervous about getting to know somebody they like. It can be scary to put yourself out there! Give them foundational talk skills to help get over that knot in the throat.
A powerful but underrated conversation skill is asking open-ended questions. Coach your teen to say “How do you feel about your biology class?” instead of “Do you like biology?” Questions like this can really get the conversation flowing. Your teen’s crush will feel their care and interest, and your teen will feel empowered to listen and share.
Enjoy the Fun
Provide gentle but realistic perspective for teenage relationships. The person they date in middle school and high school, in all likelihood, will not be who they marry. It might not even last a few weeks or months. And that’s okay.
Emphasize that relationships are about learning at this point – and fun! If they’re not having fun, encourage your teen to set a boundary to change or end the relationship. Support their discovery of what’s fun or not fun for them.
These building blocks will help them down the road. In the meantime, they’re building happy memories and growth-oriented relationships that uplift them in an often tumultuous season of life.
For more relationship support for you and your teen, consult the following resources:
Parenting in the Age of COVID-19: Being There For Our Kids
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 14, 2021 child counseling, child therapy, family counseling, family counseling during corona virus, parenting, Parenting and Families0 comments
Whether you’re a parent or caregiver, weathering the pandemic with children has probably felt like a pressure cooker at times. Boredom, turmoil, and anxiety arise when faced with remote school days or filling long afternoons sans extracurriculars.
Kids look to the adults in their lives to help them cope with this complex, global situation. How can we make strong mental health choices to protect them?
Start By Helping Yourself
It’s difficult to support others when you feel unsupported. Take some moments at the beginning of each day to center yourself. You could wake up a little early to do a 20-minute yoga class. Perhaps digest the headlines over a quiet cup of coffee. Even stopping to breathe deeply for one minute can make a difference.
Now that you are calm, transmit that to your children. Start with basic facts about COVID-19. Dispel any scary rumors that may be circulating. Especially be aware of internet and TV messages. Assure them that, although we do need to take it seriously, adults are working to keep everyone as safe as possible.
When your child has a question about the coronavirus or lockdown life, take the time to listen. Give them space to air out their concerns. It may help to provide multiple modes of expression, like drawing, playing, and talking.
Measures of Control
We all like to feel some control of our lives, however small. The same goes for young people. Fortunately, the safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 translate into simple activities. Guide kids to wash their hands, wear a mask in public, and stay at least 6 feet away from anyone outside their pod.
Lighten the mood when you can. Hand-washing can be made into a fun game with songs. Mask crafts add color and art to something obligatory.
Social distancing may especially distress kids who miss their friends. Take some extra time to emphasize why it’s important to keep distance. Explain that the infection spreads when people are in close contact with each other. Assure them that it’s temporary, and they will see their friends again. Meanwhile, engage in remote or outdoor socializing when possible.
Middle schoolers and high schoolers may benefit from graphics that demonstrate how “flattening the curve” works. This helps them understand the bigger picture and empower them to be part of the solution.
Come Up With Fun Distractions
On the bright side of lockdown, we have so many opportunities to spend quality time with our kids. When we’re safe at home, there’s no need to ruminate on pandemic worries. Have a family meeting where everyone lists a hobby or interest they want to grow during quarantine: puzzles, art, reading, writing, music, gymnastics, bird-watching… Maybe you all make a pact to work on doing the splits by the end of quarantine. Maybe you remodel a room and turn it into an art studio or sublime reading nook.
Most of us have some kind of dream home project that’s been sitting on the shelf. Time to get into it! The antidote to worry is action.
We Can Pull Through This
If the stress of the pandemic seems to be wearing on you and your children, make the wise choice: seek counseling. Zoom makes family therapy readily available, and it’s just as effective.
It’s true that we’re all in this together – if your family feels overwhelmed, you don’t have to tough it out alone.
Jackie Mandock, LPC, NCC
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 9, 2018 autism, child therapy, clinical herbalist, co-parenting, counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, educational, marriage counseling, mindfulness, Parent Child Interaction Therapy, parenting, therapist, wellness0 comments
Jackie Mandock, LPC, NCC, LBSC, MH is a counselor at Counseling and Wellness Centers of Pittsburgh- Monroeville. She provides therapy to children, adolescents, families, couples, and adults. Jackie approaches therapy from a holistic perspective, always staying mindful of how the body, mind, and spirit are interconnected. Jackie is certified in trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy and is trained in parent-child interaction therapy. She has worked with many different concerns in these specialized populations ranging from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to trauma, as well as anxiety and depression. Jackie is also a licensed behavioral specialist with a strong background in autism. Jackie was a school-based therapist and is familiar with school concerns and supporting educational issues. She is a graduate of University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelors in Psychology and Neuroscience and from Chatham University with a Masters in Counseling Psychology. Jackie also has a Master Herbalist diploma from American College of Health Sciences.Learn More
6 Tips for Harmonious Co-Parenting, Children of Divorce
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghAugust 29, 2016 co-parenting, counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, divorce, educational, marriage counseling, parenting, psychology, psychotherapy, therapists, therapy0 comments
6 Tips for Harmonious Co-Parenting, Children of Divorce
As they say, parenting is the hardest thing one may ever have to do, this statement becomes two fold when parenting as a single parent. According to The American Psychological Association, being a child of divorce or raised by a single parent is also associated with many risks to long term emotional health, and even poorer academic performance, poor view of marriage and relationships. We offer the following guidelines for parenting situations where both parents are non-abusive, an entirely separate list of guides should exist for situations where there has been a history of any form of abuse.
Lovingly Encourage The Time Your Child Spends with The Other Parent
When we as parents aren’t actively encouraging our child to love and interact with both parents then we are injuring the child and his or her relationship with the other parent. What does it mean to lovingly encourage? It means that if your child comes home from a weekend or evening with his or her other parent that you treat she or he with positive regard. Do a check in, and ask with enthusiasm what were the highlights, follow this up with an encouraging statement. This is not doing investigative work and trying to learn details about the other parent. Or on the other end, some parents may be non-communicative with the child after he or she returns from time with the other parent. Children can be subtle creatures, when we fail as parents to embrace with positivity the relationship our child has with others they will likely end up feeling guilty about their relationship with mom or dad. This lays the ground work for Parental Alienation which damages not only the other parent but most importantly the child.
Never discuss custody details or visitation arrangements within ear shot of the children
Even if you and the co-parent have an iron clad custody arrangement there may be times when the need for alterations may come up, it is imperative that these discussions happen away from the children as these are adult discussions. When a child hears mom or dad crying that the other parent wants to have them over Christmas they will most likely feel a sense of guilt. Children hear and see much more than we imagine and it is injurious when they see and hear their primary custodial parent crying or complaining about time with the other parent. This means that they will feel guilty or uncertain about time spent with that parent who is outside of the home and this too carves the pathway to a lifetime of guilt and shame, this too is also often a contributing factor in both long term emotional damage for the child as well as parental alienation.
Genuinely assume your child’s co-parent has good intentions and is an asset to your child’s life.
This is hard, all of these are hard! There are likely huge differences between you and your child’s other parent, some of them leading to the reasons your own romantic relationships failed, It’s important to keep in mind that your child is a product of both of you. To assume good intentions means that if your child comes home crying and complaining about reading time that mom or dad made them do that you don’t sigh and complain to the child about “no good mom or dad.” Instead even though you may encourage other activities to your child that you sooth the child and support those parenting efforts by the other parent, recognizing that your co-parent may have some talents and interests to offer to the child that are separate from yours.
Do some honest appraisal of what may or may not benefit the child and separate that from what you want.
This means that the vacation that mom or dad wants to take the child on which falls on your visitation may be something positive for the child, while we may not want to give up that day or weekend with the child we must do an honest assessment of what is in the child’s best interest in each situation. This may mean exposure to family time, activities, interests and places that are unfamiliar to us and at times inconvenient yet we do this in the name of the child’s health and wellbeing.
Gifts and the part-time parent
The sad truth is that many of the emotionally injurious acts that happen in co-parenting situations happen veiled in the guise of love. More often than not, both parents love the child and want to spend time with he or she and fear the time spent away from the home with the other parent. It may be natural to envy your co-parent’s gifts and spending power but reducing time or putting unreasonable limits on each other’s capacity to relate to your child in a way that nurtures and enhances them must be the primary goal. Also, it is easy to feel that the non-custodial parent comes in and gets to enjoy the fun times of long weekends and adventures with the children while the challenges of the day to day living are left in the home, this is a space where it is helpful to separate your feelings from what is good for the child.
Do your emotional homework!
Divorce and separation leave a long line of emotional reactions from hurts, sadness, anger, abandonment, confusion. These feelings must be worked through and resolved to the best of your capacity, they will not vanish on their own. The single most important piece of advice that can be offered is to deal with the emotional aftermath in a way that supports your ability to truly offer supportive parenting to your child’s experiences with the other parent, whether this is by seeking counseling or therapy or some other means, do your emotional homework
Sharing love and time with children after a divorce or separation can be a huge challenge for parents, it is particularly dire that this be navigated in a sensitive way that mutually supports and respects the love and parental rights of both parents. When parents fail to create an atmosphere of parental collaboration it can have long lasting effects on the child’s mental and emotional health as well as concept of relationships later on in life. By following the suggestions above, we make it more likely that these effects can be lessened and we become an example of a successful divorce and co-parenting family.
Reference: http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/cyf/divorce.aspxLearn More
4 Lessons on Life from Farmer Jim; The Hawaiian Vanilla Farm
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghAugust 15, 2016 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, educational, mindfulness, personal growth, popular culture, psychology, psychotherapy, wellness, wisdom0 comments
4 Lessons on Life from Farmer Jim; The Hawaiian Vanilla Farm
As a lifelong lover of all things Vanilla on a recent travel excursion in Hawaii, I opted to spend an afternoon at The Hawaiian Vanilla Companies’ farm. The farm which is a true artisans purveyor of some of the world’s best small batches of vanilla bean goodness. What was most striking about that afternoon wasn’t the lush tropical vistas, although the altitude and sea views were indeed stunning. Nor was it the fantastical process of cultivating Tahitian vanilla, which is in fact an orchid, the coveted vanilla bean are the tiny seeds which grow in the orchids stem. Botany and Geology aside, I am psychotherapist, for me, character succeeds setting, the man behind the bean is most noteworthy about that afternoon.
Jim Reddenkopp, farmer, my host, owner of the Vanilla Company is a man whose adult life began after he had acquired a dangerously steep, craggy, and startlingly cheap and unruly plot of Hawaiian land. Why purchase such a plot, a tour goer dared ask, his blank honesty, Lesson 1, ‘I had only one dream, to raise a family in Hawaii, with just enough money to buy this soil that nobody else was crazy enough to want, my wife and I were well on our way to dreams come true, we lay under glistening stars in our tent while building our home here happy as can be.’ As Jim implicitly seemed to know, the first lesson is that in mindful living every endeavor should first be aimed at cultivating our inner principals, most of the time, the rest will take care of itself if we toil hard enough.
With the thrill of striving for his goals steaming his sails he didn’t think too much about the ‘how.’ It was only in later conversation with his two university professor parents who looked to Jim, their long haired, increasingly thin, patchouli wearing son, living out his dreams in a tent in Hawaii. As good parents do, they lectured Jim and provided him with Lesson Number 2, “Better figure some things out Jim, what are you going to do with your life?” Lesson number 2 is that there will be naysayers and hurtles, Jim had been thinking about this, with lots of trial and error under his belt he had acquired a long list of all of the things which could not be done on this rocky plot of earth. It took years of failed crops for Jim to reply to his parents that he had a solution for the impossible bit of land he had been toiling, “I am going to grow Vanilla!” An excellent but complex choice, the elusive and exceptionally valuable vanilla orchid, a matter which would be much more challenging than he had anticipated.
Jim eventually mastered his craft, mastered in ways he had never thought possible in looking back. Yet the vanilla is not the thing of which Jim is most proud, closest to his heart is that his adult children have decided to stick around on the farm where they had grown up. They can be found working in the kitchen and grounds of the farm. The other tour goers kept astonishing with their consumer values, “why aren’t you growing more vanilla?” “yours is thought to be some of the best in the world! Surely there is a demand for it!” Master chefs reach out to Jim, buying out his stock of vanilla bean in advance of its harvest. Jim in his humble flannel looked to them with such brightness in his eyes, “yes, yes, but the thing is that I am already rich! My family is here with me, I like to take days off and on them I enjoy surfing. I get to grow vanilla and curate other products in a way that is comfortable and enjoyable. Work life balance is important to me.” Lesson number 3; less is often more, we should strive for balance in all things. The crowd of tour-goers looked at him curiously, some in wide eyed admiration, as though he had come to embody some elusive and novel concept, an unsung anthem which some of us had all been waiting all of our lives to hear!
Sometimes we wonder what happened to good old fashion family values, well sometimes they clock out with the 60 hour work week, we work, toil away to put food on the table, to get that bigger house, bigger promotion, yes to win at the game of life, to have that comfortable retirement and with any luck we will actually live to our 70’s to enjoy those golden years, that is a gift in itself. Yet Jim, he was living with that joy and comfort now, by embracing the values of a simple life, remaining surrounded by his loved ones, making contact with nature and his passions, his eyes seemed to sparkle with the happiness of embodying his values and don’t we all know what a tremendous accomplishment it can be to simply hold tight to our values in today’s fast paced world.
The tour continued on, we meandered over hills on a cloudless day, we walked passed a smallish house on the farm and Jim paused there, ‘this is where my father lived, he died last year.’ Myself and the other tour goers offering sad expressions, condoling comradery in understanding such loss. Jim, with dignified melancholy, gently waved it off. “Dad is gone but he died of natural causes at 88 years old right here while we held him in our arms, it was a beautiful thing and we are forever changed by it.” I paused in thinking about that, yes death is an agonizing loss for those alive to be touched by it, yet it is indeed the cost we pay to live life, the finality of it. Jim offered yet another lesson, lesson 4, that there is integrity to a long life, well-lived, clinging to loss would dishonor his father’s life. At that moment, Jims’ son popped out of the house’s shabby front door, holding the hand of a petite framed women who was waddling along with an enormous bulge in her belly. Jim waved proudly, “that is my son and daughter in law, they live there now and they are expecting their first child in a few weeks.” Ah, and now we see the circle of life continues, yes, there is so much honor in that, in a life well lived.
Wishing you all vanilla skies and sweet dreams,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
830 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
We Raise Them To Be Good Girls
by Stephanie McCrackenJanuary 8, 2015 counseling, feminist, mindfulness, personal growth, psychotherapy, wisdom0 comments
We raise them to be good girls, to nod politely during fine conversation strung on during respectable hours with respectable people. We raise them to be pillars of hope, encouraging others in their struggles, we hug them and cradle them from the womb to teach them that they too should hug others, pearls of sweat always wiped away before becoming visible, to be the tirelessly devoted caretaker. We raise them with their kitchen play sets and plastic burgers and fries to prepare, toil, to serve those near and dear, insistently offering heaps and dollops of crème fraichely flavored affectionate nurturance. We raise them to banter upon the midnight keys of the baby grand, to cajole the audience with a fine melody, high five you little entertainer, pat, pat upon your severely strewn locks all wrapped up in an impeccable bow, “you are such a good girl.”. Oh, indeed, she hears you, her tiny countenance aglow with your praises, forming a map, a how-to manual which will beckon the praises of all of the others, a lifetime of others. A heavily laden back drop of nodding, and “yes sir” and “yes ma’am”, discipline and structure abounds her omnipresent formative years, she will please and she will shine.
This little essay is for all of those good little girls, turned to women that must learn how to say “no sir” “no ma’am” here is the boundary that draws the distinction between you and between me. Sometimes she must say “no” and nod “no” for nobody else other than her, and her own self-interest, and sometimes she must walk away still being a “good girl” because as she is learning her obligation is to nurture herself, too. Here is to the good girls who have traded in their bright-eyed baby dolls and longed instead to sit in solitude, sometimes for hours on end, to strewn together words upon words which offer semblance to their own pale logic. This is for the good little girls who leave those plastic frying pans, those dull golden rubber buns left to acquire a lifetime of mold. This is for the little girls that are too busy collecting grasshoppers and salamanders, head to toe crusted in mud, smelling not like perfume and soap but like straw and finely decomposing fall leaves, yes little girl “we love you too”. This is for the little girl come lady who screeches out an alarming melody, a protestation, a vigorous “No! I don’t want to wear your dresses, I won’t be a good little girl, I want to listen to crickets and cicadas and feed the goats in my denim jean coveralls, someday I want to be the CEO and walk about with ease in a simple pair of flat shoes meant for utility!” For the little girl that doesn’t want to smile and nod, on some days she wants to stomp and to curse a big “fuck you world!” She wants to say it and not fall from her imagined place of grace, clinging to all of this sturdy awareness, panicking that she has careened over the invisible line, teetering on becoming a very bad girl indeed. Yes, good and bad and all of these startling dichotomies, black and white pervade in a world of pastels, blues and greys, there must be something beyond the stark definition, the deft appraisal, and no girl wants to be tossed to the bad girl side when it comes to such grossly serious matters. Even with messy hair, smeared mascara, no mascara, when we have stayed up too late, when we can’t wake up in the morning, when we have allowed cruel words and actions to rush passed angrily contorted lips, we still want your love. When we have shattered our picture perfect with heaps and doses of vapid reality, we still want your love, we still want to be a good-girl turned woman, a woman worth loving, to you, and we want to fill up our own hole that reeks of neediness, the irrational desire for your love which we know needs to be sustained by our own self-love, a love that remains beyond these tendencies of fluctuating moods, beyond good-girl and bad-girls, the place of total acceptance, the point of compassion for our own humanness, yes, right there, that space of self-nurturance, maybe we are good-girls turned woman after all.
In care and warmth,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Psychotherapist ; Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233 Suite 100