Millions of kitchen tables and cell phones witness conversations between parents and friends about when to push foot-dragging children along the road to school readiness, summer camp, or whatever imagined goal line the parent frets some other child might cross first.
Waiting for a developmental skill to emerge in its own time seems just too passive in the 21st century. It leaves many parents today to conclude that pushing will work better than supporting. They wonder only how hard to push, not whether to push at all.
What is the better solution? Don’t push—period.
What happens, psychologically, to children with overly competitive parents—driven sports parents, top-student-only approaches to learning, etc.? It depends on the child’s temperament, his or her closeness to such a parent, and the amount of support the child receives from other nurturing figures in his or her life.
The toughest combination is a parent whose love, support, and understanding of their child is contingent on the child’s performance. Even if you don’t think of yourself as this type of parent, you are still on the hook to change this perception if your child perceives as you as one, fairly or not.
Such hard-driving (even if usually well-meaning) parents do not faze some children. They know that competition is the parent’s thing, not theirs—”I just like playing with my friends.” Pressure from an overly competitive parent is also easier to handle when one’s other parent is less committed to the approach.
So how do you judge what your child needs for support or encouragement?
Preschool teachers can be important allies in monitoring the amount of support and positive expectation to which a particular child responds. They know that hard-driven kids can sometimes excel ahead of their time. But down the road, when events and other people in the child’s life inevitably sideline the pusher, the children often run out of steam when they need it most. So if you are determined to lead your child down the competitive byways, stay within arm’s length so he can yank you back when you get too far ahead of him.