Are You Exhausting Your Kids and Crushing Their Potential?

PerformanceI can remember sneaking out of my third grade class during a math lesson and into the library where I ducked between rows of bookshelves to hide myself. As I settled into the privacy I sought, I finally released the flood of tears I’d held back and felt them stream down my cheeks.

No matter how much tutoring was provided to me that year, I just could not solve fractions. Feeling stupid is painful, but believing it as a child is dangerous because kids tend to perform right in sync with how they feel about themselves and the personal labels they accept. It’s too easy for a child to give up and stop putting in the effort when they don’t view themselves as capable.

When I cried behind those bookshelves as a third grader, I had no idea that I would eventually excel academically and take math classes all the way through my senior year in college. However, as a kid with no clue of what the future may hold, I felt shame and sadness as I digested the “proof” I was stupid. This was the same story for me in youth football in which I initially found myself way behind the performance levels of my teammates.

I am grateful to the coaches and teachers who taught me that competencies and skills improve over a long period of time, and that I may not exhibit ability as fast as my peers, but would get there with a determined effort. As parents and coaches, we need to help children successfully cross that extremely uncomfortable gap between struggling and performing. Their abilities will grow over time, but only if they remain persistent.

However, persistence can be tough to maintain in the face of combined childhood psychological stresses stemming from body image issues, peer-pressure, social acceptance and performance in school and/or sport. If we’re going to help them move forward and improve any aspect of their lives, we need to also give them space to decompress.

  • Schedule unstructured time. Too many kids are stuffed into relentless schedules during the week and all through the weekend. They must deal with school, homework, sports practice, music lessons, tutors, camps, clinics, travel teams and so on. I appreciate parents that look to give their children every advantage possible, however, this can backfire. As psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., co-author of The Overscheduled Child notes, ”Many overscheduled kids are anxious, angry and burned out.” Parents certainly feel the effects of the frenzied schedules too. Carve out a couple of times a week for free time so kids can unwind. Ideally, this time could be used for reading or outdoor time that provides a level stillness.
  • Have a family dinner. Even the busiest family can make one-night-per-week a family dinner night. The dinner table offers a unique time to commune with kids. Again, there’s stress, emotions and events at school being processed that are helpful for them to share and good for you to know about. In the busy modern family with both parents working, kids don’t always get time to talk about their day and what’s happening at school. They are just swept into the rush of the evening to get fed, do homework and go to sleep.
  • Create a tech timeout in the evenings. Larry Rosen, Ph.D., author of iDisorder, uncovers an immense amount of research in his book indicating “a link between Internet use, instant messaging, emailing, chatting, and depression among adolescents.” The over stimulation of the brain caused by near constant interaction with smart phones and the Internet is cause for concern. Creating a time in the evening where all devices are shut down will allow the brain to settle down and prepare itself for sleep.  

As a high performance coach, I train adolescent athletes to go beyond what they think is possible for themselves. I know how to carefully push them to the edge and manage the fear of reaching beyond perceived limits.. And this is why I wrote this post. None of what I do or my athletes accomplish is possible without structured downtime and moments of complete stillness during the week that refreshes the mind and maintains emotional balance.

We are a nation of people who are overworked, over scheduled and constantly connected through our phones and tablets.  The lives of so many kids are just as harried as their parents. Seriously, where are we all running to? What’s the destination?

Try one of the ideas I’ve shared in the next week and send me an message to let me know how it goes.

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