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
Interested in Family Counseling or Child Therapy?
Call 412-322-2129 to get started or fill out the form below.
News Feature: Signs Your Child Is Involved in Too Many Extracurricular Activities
A Play Therapist’s Must-Have Toys to Use in Play Therapy
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.
Written by: Erika Gilmore, M.S.Ed, LPC at the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh. Erika specializes in Child Therapy and Play Therapy.
If Children are Talking About Death, How Can Parents Best Support Them?
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/childstudy
Written by: Erika Gilmore, M.S.Ed, LPC, NCC at the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh.Learn More
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.
5 Ways to Soothe Anxiety in your Child
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 1, 2019 anxiety in children, child counseling, child psychologist0 comments
5 Ways to Soothe Anxiety in your Child
Whether your child is anxious or even has a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, you have probably tried everything that you can think of to help them manage their emotions. Your daughter stays up all night worrying about show and tell tomorrow in school, she cries and repeats, ‘I know I am going to mess up, I will say something stupid and everyone will laugh at me!” Of course, you have seen this scenario happen before with your very concerned little one, and like most parents you want your child to see that there is nothing to fear, that they should simply stop thinking about it and go to sleep. Minimizing away worry, is the layman’s most common way of responding to other’s anxieties, we repeat things such as, ‘there is nothing to worry about,’ And at other times ‘try not to think about it.’ Experts have a different approach to managing and responding to anxiety that takes into account scientifically tested psychological methods to become well and relaxed. Below we have compiled a list of the best ways to manage your child’s anxiety according to a team of expert child therapists. These tips are most effective for children over the age of 6.
Start by labeling the emotion that your child is feeling. If we stick with the above example we might say, ‘You are really anxious about your show and tell tomorrow.’ Healthy emotional management always starts by identifying the feelings that are being exhibited instead of masking or shooing away what is being said.
Ask for more information, delve into the feeling with your child. Ask some questions like, ‘what is the scariest part about this for you?’ ‘what do you think could go wrong?’ ‘what do you feel in your body when you think about it?’ This is yet another way that we groom our children to have healthy emotional hygiene by digging in and practicing awareness of their physical responses and having a more global perspective of what is frightening them the most.
Validate the feeling, help them understand that everyone worries, has fears, and tends to think about things like this sometimes. When we are being honest with ourselves we too will realize that we definitely do have moments where our stress and worry are very high. One of the mechanisms which makes anxiety worse is when we build feeling constellations internally and feel ashamed, guilty, and abnormal for our feelings of concern. By helping our child understand that some worry is normal we can help them build a foundation of positive emotional health.
Reframe Can you help them think about some ways that is can be helpful to worry or be anxious about something that is happening in the future? In cognitive behavioral therapy we can this ‘reframe,’ when we change one maladaptive thought and we replace it with a healthier one. It may take some time to think it through with your child, ask them, ‘how can worrying about your performance help you?’ Brainstorm and imagine how sometimes when we worry, we may really want to do a good job with something, that sometimes we can also work hard to prepare when we are concerned.
Make Space for Worry- It is ok for your child to worry a little bit, as much as any parent wants to help their child we can not take away all of their fears and concerns and it may add more stress to the situation if we try too hard to make their anxious feelings vanish.
Remember to pay attention to your own feelings and responses to your child whenever they express their fears or anxieties to you. We know how overwhelming it can be as a parent who wants to make things right, try to take some breaths and notice any stress that you are feeling before you try to soothe your child. Even just by pairing a reflective moment and a long slow inhale into your body, you will be able to approach the situation with your best efforts toward being constructive and relaxed. Acknowledge to yourself how hard it is in your role as the helper and healer to your stressed our little one. When your child is exhibiting signs of high anxiety, you too may be at risk to burn out and have cargiver fatigue, you may even want to ramp up your own self care and find a mindfulness routine to help you find greater calm and clarity through the very real challenges of parenting an anxious child. Always, if your child is constantly anxious, tearful, sleepless, avoids peers, is very withdrawn, consulting a therapist or counselor who specializes in working with children is a good way to help them get the support that they may need.Learn More