Pushing vs. Nurturing Children

It was a Friday; the end of another busy week and an excited teacher proudly announces to his students, “Class, I have good news for you today. There will be no homework for the weekend. You can spend time with your family, enjoy yourselves doing whatever you like to, and take a break from school work.”

To this, the students quickly answered, “But teacher, we already have a lot of things to do! Piano lesson, swimming lesson, guitar lesson, art class, Math tuition, English tuition, voice lesson…” (Sadly, the list went on)

Parents, regardless of their parenting styles, want their children to have the best, both for now and the future. However, their good intentions often go unexamined. It is not rare for parents to find themselves pushing their children into activities (academic and non-academic) that are demanding to the extent of depriving them of ‘normal’ childhood. Driven by the fear of inadequacy and unpreparedness for the world of work, parents do all that they ‘think’ they should do to equip their children for the challenges of the future. But how ‘equipped’ do children really get when parents push them into doing things?

Children find themselves trapped between wanting to please their parents, teachers, and other authoritative figures and at the same time, wanting to be who they are and enjoy doing what they really like to do. And since the need to gain approval is such a strong necessity in every child, children give in to the demands and requirements of adults. This in turn leads to a ‘pseudo-acceleration’ in the development of the child. The phenomenon creates beings that possess knowledge and skills of adults, caged in the bodies of innocent, fun-loving children.

On the other hand, there are children who would not give in to the expectations and requirements of the parents, teachers and other authoritative figures. These become labeled as disruptive, or emotionally and behaviorally disturbed, or deviant. What we fail to acknowledge as adults is that children long to have their rightful place in the society and play their rightful roles. This is not a possibility as long as adults are more content with and favor children who behave like them in every aspect. No wonder we frequently find adults who keep repeating the words, “Look at me and be like me!” to children. They can hardly expect and accept children to be naturally themselves.

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According to Dr. James W. Prescott (Health Scientist Administrator of the Development Behavioral Biology Program of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development), in the US alone suicide rates doubled for children of 5-14 years old over the past 20 years. Some of the major stressors that lead to suicide among children were identified to be 1) challenging schoolwork, 2) struggle to fit in, and 3) parental pressure. These stressors are gaining impetus and getting hold of every child, all over the world. They are quickly becoming vital issues of discussion in every country that values education as one of the most sensible tools for creating civilized societies.

Examine the following questions: “What did you get?” and “What did you learn today?”

The former is a more common question uttered by parents and teachers to children. It implies that they are interested in a child’s grades and academic performance rather than learning itself. The latter question, is rarely asked because it entails a more mature and progressive viewpoint about education, success, and life. Adults who give more importance to grades, assignments, and academic requirements create disillusionment in children about authentic learning. Children who are encouraged to focus on grades, assignments, and academic requirements view learning from a performance perspective and neglect the more important aspect of education, which is, learning for the sake of learning.

It is time we re-evaluated our understanding about children and how they can become happy and successful people, even in an increasingly pressurizing world where tests and exam results seem to hold children’s future in the balance. To do this, let us remind ourselves of a few pertinent facts:

  1. There is a clear difference between pushing and nurturing children. The former focuses on the interests of the adults; the latter focuses and gives importance to the abilities, interests, and desires of children.
  2. Being pushy implies controlling without discussing with children what they really think and feel about issues and activities.
  3. Adults cannot impose ‘what is right’ on children. Collaboratively discussing with children about ‘what is right’ helps them to assimilate and cherish every good thing that adults would want to pass on to children.
  4. There is a difference between wanting to be genuinely interested in what children do and in being perceived as ‘nosey’ (which is the case whenever children detect control from adults).
  5. It is helpful to put children in charge of as much of their school learning and out-of-school activities as is possible and suitable because these communicates sensitivity and a spirit of encouragement on the part of adults.
  6. The key to success for children is not through being pushed up the ladder by others – it is being a self-starter who loves what they are doing, and who’ll do whatever it takes to succeed.
  7. The role of the adults is to allow children to do what they love without becoming too involved – in short, to ‘be there’ for them when they need you, and to give them their space and freedom when they don’t.
  8. Adults must let children develop their own individual fighting spirit because they will reach greater heights than ever imagined, and have more fun doing it.
  9. Let children be children. Don’t force them into pre-mature adulthood.
  10. Being pushy toward children is the greatest roadblock to their present and future happiness and success.
  11. School and college grades are not good predictors for success! A positive attitude is! (positive attitude is revealed in the following characteristics: self-awareness, proactivity, perseverance, emotional stability, ability to set goals, and ability to make use of appropriate social support systems)
  12. Most problems that children encounter at school and home are not academic problems. They are actually life-problems, guised in the form of academic difficulties! When adults pay attention and fulfill the fundamental needs of children, they become motivated to tackle all other challenges of existence.

The damage done by overly pushy parents and teachers are psychological in nature and its effects cannot be easily reverted once introduced in children. Children become hateful of themselves and this hatred is taken out in many forms onto other people. It is indeed sad to note that adults who reprimand and punish children for their misbehaviors are the same ones who are responsible for these misbehaviors in the first place. When adults become insensitive and controlling of children, they can most assuredly expect all sorts of ‘negative-boomerang-effects’ in learning and other areas of life.

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