I remember when I was a nanny and as a nanny, most of my families looked alike.
Two-parent household, both parents worked, wanted nothing but the best for their children, children were involved in many different after school activities, and everyone seemed stressed.
Rinse and repeat.
I remember thinking, ‘why in the world would you work so hard to acquire financial gains only to be miserable?’
Because human behavior fascinates me, I decided I wanted to get to the bottom of what issues parents like this faced.
So I took my last family (literally after this family I decided to hang up my nanny hat and turn it in for a Parenting Partner hat in order to help more parents) and studied them thoroughly and here’s what I found out.
These parents were causing anxiety in their children.
Hold on. Wait a minute. Say what now?
You heard it right, these loving parents, who wanted nothing but the best for their children, were actually causing more harm than good in their child and didn’t even realize it.
Stress and anxiety were common household issues here.
So, how do parents cause anxiety in their children?
By applying too much pressure.
Most of the parents I nannied for had their children involved in many different activities that would help enrich their lives.
And although there is nothing wrong with having different activities to enrich your child, there is something terribly wrong with having too many at one time.
I will never forget everyday of the week I had somewhere to take the children after school. We would have to rush just to get to some places at times.
So one particular day, I decided to have a conversation with one of the children about how he was feeling.
I said, “hey little sir, how are you today?”
With a very grim look on his face he said, “I don’t wanna go to karate today.”
I looked at him and said, “oh really? Why not?”
He said, “because it’s boring.”
So I began to probe him a little more because I understand that sometimes children will say they are bored even if they are not in order to get out of doing something that may be challenging them.
I started asking about his other activities.
He had a total of 5 after school activities to attend throughout the week (and even on Saturday) so I asked him which of those he liked.
His answer didn’t shock me.
He only liked one of them.
So I took this information to the parents and called a ‘partner meeting’ (this is a meeting that I have with the parents because we are all partners here) so that we can discuss this. Here’s how the conversation went.
Me: Your son is stressed out.
Mom: Oh no! What’s wrong?
Me: He is involved in too many activities at one time and it’s causing major anxiety and stress.
Dad: Well which one is causing the stress?
Me: All of them combined.
Dad: (protesting) well, he needs Kumon for studies, and karate to help him learn discipline, basketball he likes, swimming is something they need to know, and art for culture.
Me: Well you have me and I can help with studies after school, you can teach him discipline at home, you can take them to museums to learn culture, and swimming could be postponed until after basketball season is complete.
The mother seemed pleased with my suggestion, almost as if she had this same discussion before and this was confirmation. The father, however, was not pleased. After the sad look on the fathers face I continued.
Me: Do you realize your children have zero down time?
Dad: (looking at me like I said something blasphemous) well they have an hour each night before bed.
Me: Let me ask you a question. How much down time do you have as an adult?
Dad: I’m working all of the time, I just need the kids to be busy so I can get my work done as well.
Me: Are you happy being busy all of the time?
Dad: Well, it’s my job, it’s high pressure and I have to work a lot in order to prove my worth.
Me: And how does that make you feel?
Dad: (laughs nervously) Kinda stressed, really.
Me: Okay can you imagine how your little children, who are not equipped to handle this kind of stress, are feeling with all of these responsibilities?
Dad: Well, it’s just that I want my children to grow up with a competitive advantage, so that’s why I want to include them in as many activities as possible.
Me: But that is having the adverse affect on them. You are increasing their stress and anxiety levels as well as lowering their self-esteem and self-confidence by adding more weight to their life. I know this is not what you wanna do so may I make a suggestion?
Me: I spoke with your son and he told me he really enjoys basketball, he said he enjoys playing the sport as well as spending time with you, his dad while you attend. Why not cut out all of the other activities and just keep basketball for now?
Dad: I can’t do that.
Me: You can’t or you won’t?
Dad: You don’t understand. He needs Kumon, and karate as well and I want them to learn how to swim—
Me: Please, let me say this. My suggestion is not that he will never add these activities my suggestion is that he doesn’t have to be involved with ALL of them at once. Can you at least pick one at a time so he’s not so overwhelmed?
Dad: I guess.
I won’t bore you with the rest of the details but long story short, the family cut down the activities for one week then it was back to the regular routine. They even added an additional activity. Unbelievable. I put in my notice to leave shortly after that because I could not sit back and watch parents do something to their children that goes against everything I stand for.
So parents, I ask that you heed this advice, please do not have your children involved in so many activities that they do not have time to just be children. That’s not fair to them because at the end of the day, its more about your ego as a parent than them being involved in activities. Choose one at a time so you can reduce anxiety and help them thrive.
If you would like to find out what needs are driving your child’s behavior, click here to take this 2 min quiz now!