Are you pushing your child too hard?
Originally published by the Girls' Schools Association as part of their Heads' Blogs series.
Many parents are driven by a natural desire to provide the best for their children, through which it is easy to fall into the trap of unintentionally tipping the balance from encouragement and activity to less constructive reinforcement. Direction, support and exhortation, which are good for the child’s development, can inadvertently lead either to resentment and resistance or to longer term behaviour continuing into adulthood, marked out by feelings of anxiety and underperformance, regardless of how good outcomes are.
Plagued by questions such as “Have we done enough?” or “Will I look back and regret not giving my child enough of a boost?” parents can sometimes find they lose sight of what it is that they are ‘boosting’ their child towards.
So, how can we ensure children are motivated, happy and ambitious for their own futures, capable of making good decisions for themselves with confidence, and enjoying a life that embraces self-determination? There is no single ‘right answer’ as each family is different, but taking the time to reflect genuinely on the following questions may prove both helpful and surprising.
How would you feel if you were being parented in the way you are parenting?
For most parents, most of the time, I believe the answer to this question would be a positive and reaffirming one. However when we are feeling stressed, busy and pressured, we can inadvertently transfer these emotions to the people around us. For a child, this can feel especially overwhelming, particularly when combined with an underlying desire to do their best and make us proud. We can forget that our children worry about our welfare more than we realise.
What did you hear the last time you listened to your child?
As teachers and parents, we need to be cautious not to go into ‘broadcast mode’ too often. We must make sure that we hear what is being said, read our children’s body language and be aware of what makes them feel motivated rather than disheartened. Sometimes we listen superficially, under the pressures of day-to-day life, and can respond on auto-pilot.
With very real and different pressures on children nowadays, we must give them time away from the stresses of daily life and help them to manage, rather than add to, the pressures around them, if we want them to reach their full potential.
What is the most wonderful thing about your child?
Whether they have passed a music exam, given a speech that held the room, gone the extra mile to help a friend or said something to make you roll with laughter, our children have a unique way of making us proud.
We must be sure to celebrate their achievements not for the achievement itself or as stepping-stone to the next goal, but for the effort, intelligence, dedication, resilience, creativity, good humour or thoughtfulness behind it. This undoubtedly helps to secure their own sense of fulfilment and wellbeing.
Are you teaching your child how to make mistakes?
From big errors to small blunders, we all make mistakes throughout our lives, but it is how we handle these that makes all the difference.
Can we model behaviour for our children such that we keep things in proportion; that we see mistakes are not to be feared, and in fact can make us more self-confident, good humoured and resilient? This will encourage them to explore new opportunities and take on challenges with the fearlessness and curiosity that childhood should embody.