It is not easy being a parent. The difficulties often starts as soon as you get pregnant. Some excited parents to be find themselves already feeling anxious about the future while baby is still in the womb. Parents want to give their kids every opportunity to be the best they can be, from playing Beethoven during pregnancy to teaching babies the times tables by the time they turn one. It is a fine line between providing enough stimulation and overstimulating.
I am often asked about the fine line between stimulating and overstimulating our kids. We all know that even our very good intentions can backfire and create overwhelm, both for us and for our kids.
If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves
Parenting philosophies are divided on the issue. They are classed into four categories: browsers, crowd-pleasers (populists), stimulators and worriers.
Browsers are parent who are happy for their kids to learn from the air without their involvement. They will not do anything out of the ordinary to stimulate or motivate their kids. They believe kids are born their traits and all they have to do is deal the life they were given.
Crowd-pleasers (populists) are parents who will do whatever is popular or whatever most parents are doing at the time.
Stimulators are the parents who think that stimulation is important. Not constantly. They just believe that children will grow by being presented with new and exciting experiences.
Worriers are parents who believe that constant stimulation is necessary for survival.
To be fair, I believe that as parents, we go through all of these philosophies at different times and stages of our parenting lives. Many parents change their philosophy from one child to the next. Despite that, we usually adopt one main one to guide our parenting on a daily basis.
Today, I want to pay special attention to the Worrier mentality. This philosophy can bring about lots of trouble for their families.
For Worrier parents, stimulation is not just important, it is necessary for survival. This creates a lot of tension. It is easy to detect the worried, anxious parents because they start stimulation from the second they conceive. They will listen to Mozart while the baby is still in the womb, will go with their one year old baby to swimming classes, expose them to art, send them to hundreds of afternoon activities.
It is not the activities which create tension. Exposing babies to stimulation is all good … unless parents are constantly worried about whether they are doing enough. We call these parents Worriers because they worry about everything that happens to their kids. They constantly ask themselves:
- Is she within the normal range for <insert measurement>?
- Is he smart enough?
- OMG, he has a bruise!
- He is climbing. What will happen to him?
Anxious parents raise anxious kids by overstimulating
Worried parents are overprotective, which is another way of saying they are highly anxious that something bad will happen to their child. Stimulation is a way of ensuring their kids will never be unsuccessful or have to struggle in life.
However, all their good intentions become overwhelming. In their effort to make sure their child has every possibility before them, stimulation turns into overstimulation.
It is not easy to let go and stop protecting our kids. All parents (well, most parents, anyway) consider the future for their children. You just need to watch out not to turn stimulation into overstimulation and reasonable expectations into extreme expectations.
What we really want for our children is happiness. Pushing them to be better and better, in fear that they will be nothing, is not likely to make them happy. What can seem like protection and an act of good will can turn out to be the worst thing you can do to your child.
Do you have fears like this? Do you worry that you have to provide your child with stimulation 100% of the time? If so, here is a list of things you can do to reduce your own anxiety and cut down on overstimulating your sense of overwhelm:
- Distinguish identity from the behavior. When things don’t happen the way you want them to, remind yourself that your child’s happiness is the most important thing to you. If you are angry at your child, remember you are angry at their behavior not at them!
- Drop the expectations! Life is not a jungle for kids, it is more like a playground. Let them play in it. They will learn better without the need to meet your expectations.
- Find the balance between the browsers and the crowd pleasers in terms of stimulation. You can’t stimulate kids in all aspect of their life. Something has got to give!
- Let your child explore the world. They will fail, they will fall, they will be disappointed but they will stand up and do it again, because they are kids!
- Let your kids pick their hobbies. Expose them to new things but don’t force them to do anything. If you are forcing them into something, that means you’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for you.
- Observe! Sometimes just watching your kids play, without interruptions, will help you see that kids can manage better than you think.
- Take a deep breath whenever you feel you are going to lose your temper. Count to 10 and only then say what you have to say.
- Respect your kids! Do not consider them an extension of you. They are not!
- Do not use absolutely every opportunity to educate them! Knowledge is not the only thing your child is going to need in life. Yes, knowledge is important, but it will probably not be the difference between life and death for them. Their emotional state is just as important. That will be the difference between a happy and an unhappy kid.
- Walk a mile into their shoes. It is not easy being a kid. Every once in a while, try to think of things from his/her perspective to see how your reaction seems to them.
- If your kids are having a “tantrum” (I hate this word) search for the need they are trying to fill. Children behave the way they do for a reason. When you meet the need, everything will be fine.
- Let go of perfectionism! Perfectionism only gives your child a feeling of inadequacy. That is the opposite of what you want for them.
- Do not try to control your child. As parents, we haven’t have to make executive decisions. That’s OK. Control is a different idea altogether. If you examine the idea of control, you will find that it comes from anxiety and leads to anxiety. Let go! Everything will be alright!
- Do not think too much about what they will be when they grow up. We all have hopes and dreams for our children, but don’t get too hung up on them. There is no way to tell what they will become. You are not a fortune teller. Do not fuss about small things they do now, thinking, “If they do it now, they will keep doing it forever and they’ll never be a doctor”. Don’t worry, they won’t! If he dribbles his milk at 6 months, does not mean he will be disabled at 20.
- Do not worry about what others think about you. This is a crowd-pleaser’s worry. It limits your ability to make your own, informed, decision. Don’t add another worry to your already big list of worries.
- Do not try to change your kid. This may sounds strange, considering parenting is all about shaping our children into functioning adults. The thing is, they have their own personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and you need to accept that. It’s not about convincing your left handed child that all normal children are right handed. Get my point? The important thing is to help your child recognize their strengths and build on them. They are perfect, just the way they are. Just the way you thought they would be when they were born.
Worried parents teach their kids how to worry about things. Though their philosophy regarding stimulation is healthy and beneficial, they lose their advantage to worry. Stimulation is important. Despite the Browsers’ philosophy, kids will not learn everything from the air. They need agents in their lives to present them with information.
But you can have too much of a good thing. The best way to determine whether a child is stimulated or overstimulated is the parent’s level of anxiety about stimulation. If it is average, the parenting style is using healthy stimulation. If it is high, it is likely overstimulating for the child. Easy definition!