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Don't Turn Your Child Into An Over-Achiever! Bill Knell

Allow your child to find their own success and appreciation of it. While it may be true anywhere in America, I've noticed that children who grow up in an urban environment face an unusual amount of pressure to over-achieve. Maybe it's the eclectic atmosphere, but I also think it's their parents. We've all seen the two year old who reads at a fifth grade level, the three year old who can recite the Gettysburg Address, the five year old piano virtuoso or the ten year old fashion designer. They're cute, talented and may be headed for disappointment later in life.

Parents who live or work in a mostly urban setting feel the heat to get ahead. You either get ahead or fall behind! While I'm certain that none of them mean their children any harm, it's hard not to push your child a little harder once you discover they have a knack for early learning. Add that to the fact that it's almost a necessary survival technique to grow up fast in cities and their suburbs, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Children want to please their parents, be involved in their lives and love to copy what they do. This can make things a bit complicated if you live in an environment where there is always another hurdle to jump over. It's not just going to school, but the best school. It's not just being in band, but being the soloist. It's not just being on the honor roll, but getting accepted into the best college. All these things place enough pressure on any life. Add to that children who are already thought of as geniuses, prodigies or exceptionally gifted. Automatically expected to get into the best schools, be the soloist in the band and get accepted by the best college, they're also supposed to be the shining lights of their peer group.

Most children who are labeled as geniuses, prodigies or exceptionally gifted end up leading very average lives. Most do not become great leaders, musicians, artists, scholars, giants of business or philosophers. The ones that do, got there on their own and at a natural pace. The main reason for not pushing your child to learn too much too soon is the same one that explains why a ten year cannot baby sit, but most sixteen years olds can. The ten year old is not physically, emotionally or mentally ready for that responsibility. Even if they are to the task and lucky enough to avoid facing any situations they can't handle, most children will resent having been straddled with such a responsibility in later years. They will wonder what kind of parents would have laid such a heavy burden on the shoulders of a ten year old and taken such a risk?

Despite what we believe we know about a child's intellect and maturity, it's wrong to place goals in front of them that exceed the norm for their age group. It's wrong for parents to bypass the truth by saying that their child really wanted to accomplish a certain activity and they were just along for the ride. More likely then not, those parents bought the ticket for them to take that ride! The child who shows interest in a guitar can be helped by offering them guitar lessons. That's different from the parent who buys a guitar and all but dares the child to learn how to play it.

Encouraging kids to pursue interests they already have should always exist within the limits of the children's age and ability to accept failure as well as success. Once guitar lessons start, do we insist the child follow through on each exercise and devote time for practice? If they don't, do we punish them? I believe the correct course is to make any lessons or practice time the child's responsibility. If they fail at that responsibility, the consequences should be theirs and must be worked out between teacher and pupil without parental interference. Most music teachers I know offer a greater degree of wrath then any parent could hope to match anyway!

It's impossible to explain to children why an older brother or sister can enjoy certain freedoms they can't. Children will tell you they understand your reasons for this, but are unable to fully comprehend them. We can ensconce the need for young children to avoid contact with strangers and insist that they follow certain rules for their own safety, but it's impossible for kids to mentally grasp all the reasons why. As parents, we must take on the responsibility to set limits for our child's own good. Sometimes that means curbing our own enthusiasm and desire for them to succeed.

Success is something to be measured by each person who pursues it. It's easy to look at entrepreneurs who start great business empires from nothing and admire their achievement. Not only have they realized great wealth for themselves, but may have provided jobs and opportunities for tens of thousands of others. In our eyes, they have succeeded. Sometimes we overlook the first grade teacher who retires after forty years, having touched countless lives in ways no one can readily measure. That teacher may not have become wealthy, but might feel that a life spent educating young people was reward enough. Perhaps that teacher inspired a student enough to continue on with their education, despite adversity or hardships? It might just be that student who grows up to become the discoverer of a cure for Aids or Cancer?

Allow your child to find their own success and appreciation of it.


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