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?
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
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghFebruary 9, 2022 Child Anxiety, child counseling, child psychologist, child therapy, children mental health, Play Therapist, Play Therapy, play therapy week0 comments
Every single person in this world wants to feel heard and to be validated. However, children do not always have the words they need to express themselves due to their developmental level. Children will then find other means to express themselves, which often becomes frustrating for the adults in their lives because this behavior may be viewed as aggression, shutting down, or other dysregulated emotions that can cause stress at school, the home, and community.
When given the tool they need, children can show those around them the root of these big emotions and sometimes even bigger externalization. Through toys, children can process through their experiences, relationship dynamics, fears, hopes, and so much more when given the safe space to do so.
Some of my favorite toy, (though my playroom is constantly growing based on the needs of each individual client!), are as follows:
- A playhouse with calico critters is great to have in a therapeutic playroom. These non-specific toys allow children to play out what is going on at home and interactions with their family without the confines of dolls that may not look like the person they are wanting to represent. The animals are perfect for blended families and allow the children to create what matches how they view everyone.
- Emergency vehicles allow children to explore scary things they have lived through or witnessed such as a fire, birth family removal, family member arrest, hospitalization, etc. Ambulances are specifically important with the pandemic as many children are in need of a space to explore their ideas and fears around illness.
- Play food allows children to play out the parent/nurture role, which lends to a space for healing at a basic needs level.
- A magical tool like a castle helps children’s imaginations thrive. It can often feel safer for children to have a space to process which is not similar to their current experience. The castle gives them a space to dream, as well as put their hurts in a space where it feels safer and less personal to process and explore.
- Doctor/dentist kits allow children who have experienced medical trauma to explore those experiences. Processing through these experiences can allow for children to regain a sense of safety, as well as re-bond with parents who may have also had the traumatic experience of having to hold the child when going through a procedure or testing. Roleplaying exercises also aids in decreasing anxiety around upcoming appointments and creates a space to learn and practice coping skills to utilize during those situations to increase emotion regulation skills.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 6, 2022 anxiety in children, Child Anxiety, child counseling, child psychologist, child therapy, children mental health, death, health anxiety, pandemic, parenting, Parenting and Families0 comments
In the last two years there has been a noticeable increase of school age children spending a lot of their time discussing and playing out themes of death. This can be very concerning to parents as they want to shield their children from anything that is scary and death is a heavy concept, even for adults.
With the pandemic, death has been a constant topic on the news, media, and at the dinner table. Children are more observant than adults often realize so even when they seem absorbed in their video games or pretend play, they are internalizing what is being said. The way that children explore and understand the world is different from adults. Children will process unsafe and/or new topics by playing them out with their toys. This allows them to take an unsafe topic into a safe space that they control and understand.
According to the Yale Child Study Center, “Between the ages of 5 and 7 years, children gradually begin to develop an understanding that death is permanent and irreversible and that the person who died will not return” (Child Bereavement UK, 2020, p. 2). This means that there is an entire group of children who are moving into this developmental stage of understanding death for the first time during a global pandemic. Looking at the behaviors from this lens gives an understanding to the increase in anxiety, play themes, and/or conversations around this topic for school age children.
Another important part of this developmental stage is that the child’s imagination and ‘magical thinking’ also needs to be considered and addressed when looking for ways to help children conceptualize death and decreasing the anxiety around this topic. The Yale Child Study Center goes on to say:
Children’s imagination and ‘magical thinking at this age can mean that some children may believe that their thoughts or actions caused the death, and they can feel guilt. Not being given sufficient information in age-appropriate language can lead them to ‘make- up’ and fill in the gaps of this knowledge. Children increasingly become aware that death is an inevitable part of life that happens to all living things. As a result, they become anxious about their own, and other’s, health, and safety.” (p. 2).
To summarize, children are taking on the weight of the world with this pandemic on their tiny shoulders. So it is the job of the adult to take this burden off of them. This is not to say that the adult needs to take the responsibility of a global pandemic either, because that is also an impossible task, but instead to free up the child to engage in their job of being a kid. As much as parents wish they could change the world for their child, what is in their control is making sure the child feels safe.
For example, if a young child was worried that if an acorn fell her entire family would die this would in line with magical thinking due to lack of information. Parents are then able to use this as an opportunity to use age-appropriate language to explain, without invalidating, the child’s fears. The parent is then able to say, “I can see this is something that you are very afraid of. Let’s take a deep breath together to help calm ourselves and talk about it. It’s Mommy’s/Daddy’s/Safe Grownup’s job to keep you safe. It’s your job to be a kid and play. It’s okay to be scared and sometimes scary things happen in the world, but I am here to help you with your big emotions, as well as help keep you safe.”
The world is a scary place, so it is important to create a safe space within the family unit for the child to express how they are feeling, as well as have their needs met through validation and allowing them to hear that they are safe to let the parent be in control.
Another way of reassuring children of the parent’s role of protector and sole adult is through play. Similar language can be used when the child is playing out these fears of the pandemic and death. Children will show you exactly what they are thinking and worrying about through play, even when they do not have the words to have a conversation around this. The parent can then utilize whatever scene the child is playing out to have characters deliver these important messages of safety.
It can be difficult for parents to take on this task, especially if they have their own fears of death and the pandemic. There are many resources available for guidance, such as the Association for Play Therapy’s Parent’s Corner. If you would like to work with a professional there are always many options for the family, such as parent consultation, individual play therapy, and dyadic play therapy with a play therapist. The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh has licensed professionals who are here to help!
Child Bereavement UK. (2020). Children’s understanding of death at different ages. Yale Child Study Center. Retrieved from www.medicine.yale.edu/childstudyLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 15, 2021 Adoption, Guardianship, Child Anxiety, children mental health, grief, healthy holiday, holidays, holidays stress reduction, trauma, trauma counseling, trauma informed care0 comments
When most people celebrate the holidays, they are surrounded by loved ones telling stories and laughing over mugs of hot cocoa as they exchange gifts. During this time of holiday cheer, many children who were adopted are faced with the realization that they will not see any of their biological family during the holidays. It is a stark reminder of the grief and loss they have experienced up to and including being removed from their biological family’s home. It is important for adoptive parents to prepare for and remain aware of what they can do to help their newly adopted children during the holidays. Here are some therapist recommendations to follow:
- Talk about the holiday. Help your child understand what holiday traditions and festivities your family participates in and allow them to ask questions. Do you celebrate over many days or just one day? Are there religious customs? Who will they meet and will there be gift exchanges? Avoiding surprises will help decrease anxiety.
- Incorporate traditions that the child celebrates into your holiday. Whether it is an annual watching of Frosty the Snowman or a snowball fight on Christmas Eve, bringing a cheerful memory to life may make a child feel more comfortable. You may even get a smile. Through conversation, you may discover that your child doesn’t celebrate the same holiday you do. Make it a point to learn about their customs and show interest in celebrating them.
- Allow them to grieve. Despite your best efforts, your child may still pull away. This is not intended to be a reflection of their feelings toward you or their new family, but instead a way of coping through this difficult time. Make one-on-one time with your child to talk through what they may be feeling. Be prepared if they shut down the conversation or not know exactly what they need. Give enough space for “downtime” and do not force them to participate in any activities.
- Don’t chase the “perfect” holiday. This not only creates unnecessary stress for you, but also for your child. Be flexible, be realistic, and have a sense of humor when things don’t go as planned! This can also include unexpected responses from extended family who do not understand the child’s behavior.
- Stay Trauma-Informed. Educate yourself on trauma and the impact it has on the dynamics of a family. Trauma can often look like anger, hyperactivity, and defiance. Without an understanding of the effects of trauma, it is likely you will misinterpret your child’s behavior resulting in feelings of anger and resentment. There are many resources online to assist in Trauma-Informed Care such as attachmenttraumanetwork.org or childwelfare.gov.
In summary, there isn’t one right way to raise a child. Remember to give yourself grace and practice self-care! Your child will teach you more about yourself than you may have ever realized previously. With patience, knowledge, and empathy, you can create an open environment that allows an adoptive child to feel comfortable expressing their fears, triggers, and even their feelings about their biological family.
Written by: Teresa Gouch, a licensed professional counselor at the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh. Teresa specializes in trauma counseling and foster care/adoption counseling.