Hurrying Kids Through Childhood

Most of us have had one of those days when we’ve thought, "Wouldn’t it be nice if I could be a kid again, without all of the stress of my job and the pressure to succeed?" But did you ever consider that many kids are feeling the same stress that adults feel?

In a culture that emphasizes success, children are bombarded daily to grow up too quickly. They are pressured to learn to read and count even before they can walk. To outperform the other kids in their kindergarten class. To be self-sufficient, productive and disciplined. This rushed childhood creates undue stress that many psychologists believe can have devastating effects.

Children who suffer the stresses of adulthood will also exhibit the ailments of adulthood. More and more children are suffering stress-related diseases like ulcers by the age of seven, as well as sleep disorders and bedwetting. Suicide and depression are no longer restricted to adults, but have found their way into the child’s community. And children have blocked their learning skills with anxiety-promoted memory lapses and an exaggerated fear of failure.

Single parents and two-career families often push their children as hard as they push themselves. These kids develop a feeling that they are unworthy of their busy parents’ time and feel rejected when their parents leave them behind with multiple sitters and caretakers.

Many parents seek to create "super kids," pressuring their children into becoming premature adults and making them overly competitive. Ironically, in their eagerness to

create an academic prodigy, overzealous parents often create an underachiever. When these children fail to live up to their parents’ expectations (which are often unrealistic and created by media hype), they become so anxiety-ridden that they cannot perform.

Dr. David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child, advises parents to let children be children. His research suggests that students are more likely to have academic success if they were not hurried through their early childhood by parents who overestimate their child’s competence and overexpose them to academic experience.

Children have a heavy burden to bear when they feel that their performance is connected with the love they receive, and they are letting down their parents if they are not successful. These feelings even carry over into their adult careers.

How do we avoid hurrying our children through childhood? Remember that play is an important part of childhood. Pure play is needed to reduce stress, foster creativity and bring joy. Adults shouldn’t turn play into work, and they shouldn’t try to teach children during their play period. When parents must leave their kids with others, they should tell their kids that they are going to miss them and that they wish they didn’t have to go away.