I have spent years working with middle and high school-aged children. In particular, a lot of this time has involved discussions of sports, arts, and academics with them and their parents. There are prodigies out there, but most kids are childish at times. This may seem like a Captain Obvious statement, but it is helpful for us to remember that fact when pushing and correcting our children. We want the best for them. However, is a high-pressure, failure is not an option environment going to help them succeed? Maybe it is time for us all to step back and take a breath before we pour more stress on our kids.
It is Natural to Push
Every parent wants to be proud of their children. This is obvious when you look at how often we put on “parent blinders” with regard to our own children. We minimize and brush aside their weaknesses while bragging about their strengths. A parent wants their children to succeed so it is natural to push children. This may be a natural athlete, an artist, or an academic. Loving parents find it hard not to push a child to do things that lead to success. We want more for them than we had. It is just a natural desire.
For example, we all know the parents of the young athlete that are sure their child is going to be a professional athlete some day. This may be in the form of loud cheers, or can be a steady stream of camps, mentors, and travel programs. There are children that enjoy that, but in my experience, most kids will burn out. Recommend a break from time to time. It will make them better in the long run. Adults are less productive as they pour long hours into work, so kids likely follow the same pattern.
Middle School and early High School sports and activities start to demand a serious investment of time. Athletes and academicians practice their craft multiple times a week. This may include playing the piano, playing soccer, or studying for college exams. It is also a time where kids have to chose the activities they truly like. Tiem constraints demand it. Unfortunately, some prior favorites may lose out. Even the activities that are parental favorites. This can be frustrating, but a child that is constantly being pushed and feeling stress about an activity is probably going to run from it. Kids want to have fun, not feel punished.
I saw this in my “hockey star” after he spent six months in a higher level travel program. He had been non-stop in hockey for a few years at that point and realized that he was missing out on his childhood. On many weekends the neighborhood kids would gather to play football/soccer/tag down the street. To his dismay, he was rarely able to join due to being exhausted from games that day or off on another travel weekend. He eventually decided that he wanted to drop out of travel and free up his weekends. This can be frustrating to a parent that invests time and money into an activity, but who is that investment for? Take a breath, let it out, and help the child refocus on what they want. No one will be happy if a child is pushed into something they don’t enjoy.
Take a Breath – Let them have fun
I have been focused on strengths, but weaknesses can be a source of extreme frustration as well. School work can easily be a huge burden as homework and a desire for good grades piles up. Even chores and cleanliness can be overwhelming to a child. In these cases we need to lighten up. It will not destroy a child’s future to take some time away from a schoolbook to play outside (or even watch a TV show). Adults these days talk about work-life balance so why can’t we allow that for our children? If a child can’t find balance with work and their “life” how can expect an adult to do so?
The key is to remember that you are dealing with a child and that you love them. This is hard to remember when your child just broke a treasured item, or wrote on the wall with permanent marker again. However, the most lasting impressions you can leave are when you let a child know that a mistake was simply a mistake. People do better when they are allowed to fail. The world is not about to end. Review the mistake to avoid it in the future and move on.
So step bake and take a breath instead of lecturing, pushing, or correcting. It is never too soon to teach your child to find balance and allow them to make mistakes. It is how we learn and a true secret to success.