I am sure you have watched this incident play out at the swimming pool.
The parent enrolls the child for swimming lessons. The 5-year old looks petrified as he gazes into the waters. The parent coerces and bribes the child to get him into the pool.
“You are such a brave boy, go inside.”
“When you come out, I’ll get you an ice-cream.”
“There is no need to feel scared, it will be fun.”
The parent sees the child not listening, shifts to threatening, shaming and comparing.
“If you do not get into that pool in 5 minutes, I’ll leave you here and go.”
“Why are you acting like a baby? Stop crying!”
“See your friend, how well he is swimming.”
It is a similar pattern for academics, sports and extracurricular activities. The child often feels the pressure to get the best grades and to perform well in hobbies. We parents have the best of intentions for our children and want them to learn life skills. It may be hard for us to see them struggle when they are not enjoying what they are doing. Hence, we are faced with this constant dilemma - Should I push my child? When is it ok to push? If I don’t push, will my child lag behind?
These questions lead us to examine some beliefs held about children.
BELIEF 1: Children do not know what is good for them. They will not work for their self-development unless they are pushed.
BELIEF 2: Children may be motivated, but not for the things that matter. They only want to play.
BELIEF 3: Children are like clay. It is the parent's job to mould them.
Here’s what research by eminent experts in their fields have to say.
Every child is constantly working towards his or her own development. Children are born with an innate curiosity and desire to learn.
Dr. Maria Montessori, physician and educator,affirms, “The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” (The Absorbent Mind, p.84)
“We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.” (Education for a New World, p. 69)
Children have an inner motivation to explore and discover. They want to achieve.
Daniel H. Pinkin his book ‘Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us’ states, “For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation-the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing-is essential for high levels of creativity.”
Children are born with their own essence, their own personalities, and talents and grow according to their own inner timetable. Children do not thrive when their caregivers are threatening, bribing, nagging and pushing them to perform with unrealistic expectations. It is our anxiety (and comparison to others) which comes in the way of allowing the child to develop at his own pace. When children are free from these limiting factors then we observe that they grow to their full potential.
“Both rewards and punishments,” says ‘Punished by Rewards’ author and educator, Alfie Kohn, “are ways of manipulating behavior that destroy the potential for real learning. Both carrots and sticks can be effective at getting one thing and only one thing: temporary compliance. Unfortunately, neither of these "doing to" strategies can ever help students develop a commitment to the value of what they're doing.”
Surely there are times when we need to encourage our children in the right direction and help them to choose well. However, ‘the manner’ in which we encourage and not push our children is the key to their optimal growth.
Author: Sujata Dewaji is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.