I saw a first grader last month with a "to do" list. Anxiety related problems are more common than ever in children in my practice. GERD, breathing problems, stomach aches, headaches, they are all at least potentially and in part anxiety related disorders.
Kids have been told to have good self esteem, and the trouble is that with self esteem comes self awareness, and with self awareness comes the awareness that they're not as good/perfect as they've been brought up to believe, and that stresses kids out. What's the answer to this problem? Should parents stop praising their children? Should we stop preaching self esteem and be more honest in our appraisal of our kids while emphasizing unconditional love? What would that look like?
"I love you no matter what, so you don't have to worry about that. No matter what you do, I can't NOT love you, so chill and rest in that assurance. Now, about that...grade, performance, attitude, behavior, etc..." Kids know they're not perfect, but as my wife quotes often, "a lie told often enough becomes a truth, even if it is a lie". So, a realistic view of our children is now considered demeaning and limiting and "not allowing them to realize their potential or explore their boundaries". Pretty much you're bucking the trend if you try to raise your children with a true self awareness that includes their moles and warts and accepts those as a part of a loved person but that some people are better at some things than others and not all kids are really as "special" as they've been taught in school - just by breathing they automatically get credit for being the next rocket scientist or Tiger Woods and people push them to expect things from themselves that are unreasonable, then they're stressed and depressed and they go into therapy where they're told that no matter how broken they are it's not their fault and there's medicine to help their alleged chemical imbalance and when that doesn't fix the problem they again go to therapy where another diagnosis is made to justify another unnecessary and dangerous drug and the cycle continues until they either grow up and become realistic or grow up and become more unrealistic and expect others to adjust to their weirdnesses since it's obviously the other people that have the problems, not them, because they're "special", their parents and teachers told them so a long time ago and dadgummit, they believe it. Whew! My high school English teacher would dissect that sentence and use a whole red pencil just to mark the errors, but it felt good to vent.
OK, childhood does still exist, but I just found out about it. A 13 year old friend of mine described staying out til 10:30 the other night playing dodge ball and hide and seek with other kids in the neighborhood. Thank goodness that still happens. Amazing how I don't have those kids in my office for stress-related disorders like the kids who just got back from their soccer tournament at 10:30 and fell into bed to get up and travel to another tournament tomorrow where they're likely to get yelled at for not playing as hard as they can or not played at all because they aren't scoring like another kid on the team. Oh, don't get me wrong, to play everyone on the team for the exact same amount of time without regard to performance is to play into the above self esteem game, but I'm talking about the kid who comes and practices and tries and has a good attitude, but needs a chance to prove himself but can't get it because every game is too important to risk losing to give a kid a break. Enough on that, most of you know my opinions of youth soccer, or any team sport in young kids for that matter. But childhood is still out there to be had, and I'm glad, because the lightning bugs are still there and the woods are there and the imaginations are there to build the fort and make the club and we, as adults, must let kids do these things more, even if it's a little scary, because if every minute of every day of your kids' summer is planned with camps and lessons and tournaments and trips to Disneyworld where they better have fun because it cost you a bundle and they better not mess it up and it's more about you than it is about them because you're trying to be a super parent so you can talk to other super parents about how super you all are, while leaving your kids in planned activities because God forbid they should have any free time or they might not realize their potentials, then you're going to have Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" playing at your funeral and your kids are going to send flowers but they're too busy maximizing every opportunity to come to pay respects and say goodbye. Ouch, that hurt. Sorry. No, I'm really not. I'm making a point. Sometimes one has to go over the edge to make the point, but the point needs to be made that kids need to have time to be kids, lest we begin needing to put prozac and adderall and nexium in the water supply because we're all depressed, distracted, and have indigestion.