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The perils of all work and no play

Last updated on: May 30, 2006 17:37 IST

Dhruv Kejriwal is five years old. At the end of a regular school day, he is so exhausted, he often falls asleep in the middle of dinner.

Dhruv's mom has enrolled him in multiple classes after school. "Mummy said it will make me more clever," says Dhruv.

Instead of carefree hours spent playing as they choose, pre-schoolers are now bundled off from one activity after another by parents keen to ensure their child gets the maximum exposure to all the skills that he or she could possibly need in the real world.

A question arises -- are we equipping them to be more capable?

Or are we crushing them with the excess pressure?

Part I: Is my child different? How to cope

Expert speak

Do parents put too much pressure on kids these days? According to experts, the answer is a resounding 'YES'.

"The other day there was a newspaper report about a young child who wakes up at 2.30 am each day to study. What happens to parents when they read an article like this is they compare their own child to this child. They don't see the situation as ridiculous. Instead, they see it as a reference point," says Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria.

Often, this increased pressure by parents comes from a lack of awareness.

"Due to lack of knowledge about the developmental capabilities of a child as well as failure to note individual differences in children, parents often put pressure on children to perform to perfection in various areas -- the predominant ones being academic performance. There is great pressure that the parents' themselves face to see that their child gets admitted to a 'good school'," says psychotherapist Khursheed Kanga.

Recognise the signs

All parents feel that, in this competitive world, their children must be pushed so that they become stronger. But how do you know if you are pushing too hard?

Dr Chhabria outlines some of the signs you should look out for:

~ Falling sick often

~ Refusing to eat

~ Disturbed sleep patterns

~ Temper tantrums

~ Crying unnecessarily

Tip: If you are not sure about whether your child is actually suffering under the strain, it is better to take him/ her to a counsellor and find out.

Too many activities!

Art class, dance class, karate class, singing class, craft class... exhausted already?

Imagine how a four-year-old attending all of these must feel. Sending a child to every possible class available has become the norm these days.

Explains Bharati Kelkar, mother of four-year-old Taran, "I want him to take part in as many creative activities as he can at an early age. This way he will be stimulated and I think that will help him be a good all-rounder later." 

The flip side to this argument raises valid concerns. Anjali Savoor Bulla, a teacher at a Montessori school, outlines the problems that may arise:

~ Parents these days want their child to be doing a lot of things and they want them to achieve things very quickly. 

~ You would think a five-year-old's life would consist of going to school, playing, eating and sleeping. But parents make them go to multiple classes after spending the whole day in school. As a result, the child returns to school the next day feeling completely drained.

~ They get no respite on the weekend either. A weekend packed with classes leaves the child with no energy for school on Monday morning.

~ Parents also want their children to excel in everything that they do. This kind of expectation is unrealistic.

~ Some parents insist on having homework for their pre-schoolers. If such a young child studies in school and then is made to go over all of that at home repeatedly, they do get tired of the subject and can even begin to hate studying.

Tip: While it is good to send your child to an organised class, understand the psychological importance of free playtime.

Dr Chhabria explains what a child learns from normal play with other children:

~ They learn to wait for their chance

~ To fight and compete in a healthy manner

~ To make decisions

~ To cope in a social setting

Know your child

Counselling psychologist Kirti Bakshi shares from her experience. "Parents are so boggled and confused by the information being thrown at them that they often have no method of selecting what is right for their child. They say 'If a brighter child is going to the class, let me send my child as well so that he/ she will also become smarter'."

Tip: Know your child's skill set. Don't push them into something that does not suit their personality. Every child is born with the inherent gifts. See what hidden talents they have. 

Send them to extracurricular activities by all means, but with the right aim -- creative exposure and not rigid excellence in all tasks.

The comparison conundrum

How many times have you heard this statement -- 'See how much your classmate is studying! Why can't you be like him?' It is so commonplace that we don't realise how much harm it can cause. 

Dr Chhabria recounts, "When you compare, children feel they are not good enough and no one can work well when they feel they are not good enough. Children have told me that they would like to be encouraged instead."

Further, if the comparison is between siblings (as is often the case), it can result in the one being negatively compared feeling the parents love him/ her less. However, it is definitely important to stop doing it as it can negatively impact the child's self esteem.

Kanga acknowledges, however, that it can be difficult to avoid comparing children.

Tip: Stick to the issue of what this one child is doing (or not doing) -- without referring to another child.

One does have to correct the child to show him where he is lacking and tell him do better -- but not by comparison and criticism. Instead, help the child and show them in concrete ways how they can be better.

Part I: Is my child different? How to cope

Are you a parent or an expert? Write in with your tips and suggestions.


Moms at work

Sonal D'Silva