Competitive mums – and dads!

publication date: Apr 19, 2007
For some parents, only too aware of the competition for school places and perhaps future job and further education possibilities, it’s never too soon for their child to gain an edge over the others. Parents, understandably want the best for their children but for some this means keeping their kid ahead of the pack at almost any cost. Pushy parents press their children into taking extra classes or tuition in music, a sport, maths or whatever and at an increasingly early age. Toddlers start ballet when they can barely walk, a foreign language when they can hardly talk. So where do you draw the line? When does a naturally proud and encouraging parent become a pushy one?
One question you can ask yourself is: “Who am I doing this for?” If you are trying to realise your own dream or ambition through a child, you are heading for trouble. Children do best when their own interest is caught, when learning for its own sake is reward enough. They should never think that you love them more for their achievements.

To help children achieve their potential without pushing, parents should:
  • Make sure there are plenty of books and resources available in the home.
  • Ensure there is somewhere quiet to do homework.
  • Be encouraging and helpful.
  • Praise but don’t make them feel they have to do well for you to love them.
  • Set a good example by showing your own interest in the world around.
  • Help them to develop their critical faculties by discussing TV programmes you’ve watched together and talking about how a particular issue was tackled.
  • Make the most of local amenities and offer a variety of activities - perhaps teaming up with other parents to offer different skills.

Many parents assume their own passion for something will be inherited by their child. It can come as a shock to a book-loving mum that her child would rather be out pond-dipping. If your child is not naturally drawn to a subject it can be counterproductive to try and force the issue.  Nevertheless there are times when a mum might have to try a little coercion - if your child is being uncooperative in, say, learning his times tables you could start a star charts to show his progress and offer a treat for when he’s learned all of them.

Expectation versus reality
However you do have to be realistic in your expectations. Parents often worry if their child doesn’t perform well compared to other children or siblings. However comparisons aren’t always very helpful as he might actually be performing to the best of his ability at that time. Here it's a good idea - and reassuring - to have a chat with his teacher who should have a more balanced perspective of child development and how your child is doing.
It can be tempting, if your child is good at something, to push too hard. Some kids drop out because they become so tired of the activity so it’s a mistake to pin all your hopes and aspirations on one thing.

If you’re worried that you may be pushing too hard be guided by your child’s own enthusiasm.  When his aim is to please himself rather than win your praise, there’s nothing to worry about!