Healthy Kids : Hurried Child Syndrome

By Sawant, Purvaja

Are you pushing your children too hard to grow up fast? You may be confusing your own needs with theirs, which has repercussions, child psychologist and author Dr David Elkind warns.

In our competitive, fast-paced world, parents want their kids to excel in every field. But often, they don't realize that in the bargain, they are raising a "hurried child" -- a term proposed by child psychologist Dr David Elkind, in his groundbreaking book, The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast. He stresses that parents need to slow down the process of "hurrying up a child into a mini adult". Elkind talks about how rushing your kid will do him more harm than good.

Describe the Hurried Child Syndrome.

It is a set of stress-linked behaviors, which result when a child is expected by his parents to perform well beyond his or her level of mental, social or emotional capabilities. Basically, parents over-schedule their children's lives, push them hard for academic success, and expect them to behave and react as miniature adults.

Other reasons are a result of current commerce. Those who merchandise to children these days understand that parents aren't dictating them anymore about what to eat, wear or watch. The consumerist market is taking advantage of this fact, which in turn is affecting children.

How are children being affected?

Hurrying can lead to a wide range of childhood, teenage and adulthood crises. If children are offered the stresses of adulthood, they will also exhibit the ailments of adulthood. One of the effects of excessive expectations by parents is stress. Also, stress-induced psychological problems such as depression, not getting along with others, anxiety, crying, stuttering, and sleep issues can follow. The most common physical symptoms include stomach ache, diarrhea, nervous twitches, headaches, hyperactivity, stammering, muscle tension and bed-wetting. The number of children and adolescents suffering from -- one or more -- stress-related symptoms has increased dramatically over the last two decades.

As for parents, the ones who push their children too hard, the results may be the opposite of what's intended. Once Sigmund Freud was asked what eventually happened to the street-savvy shoe shine boys of Vienna when they grew up. He replied, 'they became cobblers'. Parents fail to understand this -- growing up fast can mean NOT going very far in life.

Is this syndrome a result of parents' desire to raise an alpha child?

No, there are multiple reasons. Most parents demand more from their children. They are concerned about the global economy and their children's ability to compete in it. Other reasons are competition between parents, small families and overinvestment in each child etc. I think, in most cases, it is just a matter of necessity; parents need the children to take more responsibility than before when only one parent worked. It's not wrong if the demands from the child are age-appropriate.

What do you mean by age-appropriate demands?

You have to match the responsibilities given to your child with his age and actual ability. For example, you can ask a two-year-old to pick up his toys and clear his plate from the dining table but you cannot expect a 10-year-old child to understand the differences in your marriage or your divorce complications.

You've lamented about the loss of playtime during childhood. How big is the price?

It's through playing that children learn about themselves, others and the world. There are many different forms of play and a child learns different values from each, like co-operation, persistence, compassion and so much more. Playing also teaches children about their own powers and abilities. It educates them on how to interact co-operatively with peers, and it makes them understand the limits and the constraints of reality.

For example, when they interact with kids their age, they automatically learn appropriate social behaviors, such as sharing, co-operating, and respecting the property of other children. It teaches them to be tolerant, and may even help control aggressive behavior.

What can parents do to build a healthy culture of play?

It is a question of balance. Childhood has moved indoors and that is not going to change. Parents just need to insist, and show by example, that time on c o m p u t e r s , iPhones, iPads, etc. need to be balanced with time spent socially engaged with parents and other children; with time spent in the real rather than the virtual world.

Do you believe children lose their innocence too early these days?

I am not sure if there's really a loss of innocence. Of course, there are children who have personally experienced violence, natural disasters, suffered abuse, and they have abiding scars. But just because children may dress, talk and try to act like older children or adults, you can't forget that they are still children. You can't hurry development. For example, most children do not understand death in the biological sense, until they are eight or nine, despite their constant exposure to it via the media.

How can one prevent raising a hurried child?

The most import thing is for parents to distinguish between their own needs from those of the child. They often confuse the two, and that is the single most common cause of hurrying...

How far is technology/gadgets responsible for this change?

Technology has knocked down many of the barriers that once shielded children from the darker side of human nature.

What are the signs of a child being neglected?

Children who are ignored can act out, get in trouble and bring attention to themselves, even if it is negative.

How can parents maximize their children's learning potential without overburdening them?

The main thing is to watch the child carefully, and try and understand his/her specific needs and knacks. If a child enjoys learning and extracurricular activities, that is great but if the child is struggling and resistant, it is time to back off and let him take his own time to learn as much as he can.

Times of India

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