When Parents Push Too Hard, or Not Enough

Your desire to give your child the best start can become the thing that gets in the way. How hard should you push your child to succeed?
BY CELESTE STRYDOM

Parents have never been more socially conscious. We speak of reparenting ourselves. We hope to raise our children more sensitively than our parents. Most of our lingering childhood scars were not intentionally inflicted. Our parents had tried their best. With this in mind, are our own best intentions taking our children’s desires & capabilities into account? or, are they paving the way to feelings of inadequacy and pressure?

START WITH YOURSELF
Think back on your childhood. Perhaps your parents expected you to become a doctor, like your mom; or, maybe you showed promise as a dancer, and can’t understand why they didn’t nurture and encourage your talent. Was there unreasonable pressure to perform academically or socially?

HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS TOO MUCH?
Some children thrive on pressure. Others crumble beneath it. You must consider your children’s personality. What are their interests and strengths? Pushing a bookworm who
hates sport into a rugby club to introduce them to team dynamics is probably not the best idea. A book club might be more appealing, while still ticking off some of the lessons you
hope they will learn. Inspect your motivation for nudging your children in a specific direction. Do we want them to achieve this for their benefit, or is it something we want for ourselves? If the answer is the latter, perhaps you need to let it go.

Candice Warner, Child and Family Therapist and Mediator at The Care and Contact Centre in Cape Town, says that parents should be aware of signs that they might be applying too
much pressure. Candice explains: “Children who are pushed too hard may become defiant and oppositional toward the parent, school, or society at large.” At the same time, she says: “Children who are not pushed enough might be at risk of feeling as though their parent does not care. This can impact on self-confidence, making it hard for these children to overcome tough obstacles later in life.”

STRIKING THE BALANCEEncouraging children to do things that challenge them will teach determination and broaden their perspective. The Care and Contact Centre encourages connection and attachment. “When parents are effectively connected to the child, they are in a prime position to enforce discipline and set boundaries.”

“Listen to your children without feeling the need to respond. Help them build realistic expectations and set goals to give them a sense of autonomy.”

Being able to tolerate healthy levels of discomfort is an important trait. Encouraging children to try something more than once, even if it wasn’t their greatest hit will allow
them to practise perseverance.
Something that they initially thought was horrible, might grow into something they enjoy. Just remember to keep listening. Children might be averse to something because it’s not
their thing, or as a result of bullying or depression.

SHIFTING THE FOCUS
Candice reminds us, ‘When you see your child pushing back, refocus the relationship. It’s about connection, not correction. Instead of telling a child, you’re proud of him or her, you might instead suggest. “You must be so proud of yourself!’ This minimizes the expectation that the child should live up to the parent’s standards, and instead focuses on what makes him or her feel accomplished.”
The important thing to remember is that your children need you to be their parent. What is needed isn’t a light touch, but the right touch. Being actively present from the start allows
you to raise children who are capable of self-discipline and self-discovery.
When demands for achievement interfere with the parent-child relationship, sit back and remember that you are not the coach. Rather, you are the mentor.