When writing these blogs, I always try to find a picture that goes with the theme. Sometimes it takes quite a while to find it. This one was perfect. Even though this picture is posed, the looks on these kid’s faces pretty much covers it.
There is no doubt as parents we all want our children to succeed, whether in school, in sports, in their career or in love. As the parents of three children, it was also important to my wife and I that our children led balanced lives.
We also noticed that some parents overemphasized academic achievement and made it all about the grades. Regrettably, their children seemed to experience more anxiety, stress, depression, felt more overwhelmed, and had lower self-esteem.
I also had the added bonus of being a former school teacher and was able to witness first-hand how some children enjoyed personal and academic growth and development, while others suffered emotionally, even if they had perfect grades. I could see what worked and what didn’t. By no means was I a perfect parent, but I have plenty of experience to draw from as a parent, educator, and counselor. As a fellow parent, I’d like to share some of that with you.
Today, I am going to focus on the ‘school’ part of our children’s success because this has a direct correlation with actual happiness in childhood and adult life.
There are some seriously high academic achievers in this country and we parade them around at events like the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which in 2016 set records for the youngest winner at 11 years old. But, it’s also important for us to ask some questions:
- Are these child geniuses getting the social development required to foster normal childhood experiences along with their academic excellence?
- How much pressure is from parents and teachers, and how much of it is their own choice?
- Will these kids be able to grow up to lead healthy, adjusted, and balanced adult lives?
Now, this isn’t to discredit their amazing achievements, because they truly are impressive; however, it’s imperative for us as parents to balance the intellectual development of our children with social development in order to give them time to be a kid while they still can, foster normal childhood development and, most importantly, to help them develop into well-adjusted adults.
I hear all different techniques of breeding ‘smart’ babies starting in the womb and parents only wanting educational toys for their babies or only allowing them to watch educational shows like Baby Einstein. Maybe it’s the rising cost of higher education that drives this need for early intellect, or maybe the reasons are deeper. In any event, this academic urgency doesn’t stop at home.
Eventually, they go to school, where they are graded, assessed, and compared to other kids their age and ranked in a certain percentile for each subject based on national standardized tests. Then we come to applying to colleges and feeling the pressure to enter a major university versus the local state college. Next, they’ll enter the workforce, where they’ll feel the pressure to work at a prestigious company.
The Pressure To “Succeed”
Notice a pattern? The pressure to succeed and achieve never ends once they enter the school system. Comparing them to other children so early will only cultivate unhealthy competition and rob our kids of something they will only have once in their lives: their childhood.
It might surprise you to know there is very limited research that shows exposing your babies to this intense intellectual stimulation and attempting to teach children more complex ideas at a young age is actually beneficial. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Over-emphasis on academic learning in early childhood does not produce emotionally healthy children.
Dr. Ashlesha Datar, a social scientist for the RAND Corporation, studied the differences between children who started Kindergarten ‘on-time’ and those who started one year later, finding “…that entering kindergarten a year older significantly boosts test scores at kindergarten entry. More importantly, entering older implies a steeper test score trajectory during the first 2 years in school.”
Every child develops at his or her own pace. As their parents and teachers put excessive pressure on them, children develop more and more anxiety.
When the desire to succeed doesn’t come from within, it creates insurmountable pressure on young minds. We all know a little stress can be a good thing – and provides a little motivation to get moving! However, too much stress takes its toll on the body mentally and physically. That is often the stress we see in high achieving students. When excessive, this pressure often leads to anxiety and trouble focusing as well as headaches and physical illness. Their lives are distinctly out of balance.
These children also have much more difficulty establishing, sustaining, and nurturing relationships with others because they have been taught that their self-worth is based more upon what they accomplish in school and in the work world. They often don’t receive enough praise, if any, for who they actually are as people in terms of being loving, kind to others, and sociable.
Helping You and Your Child Value School-Work-Life Balance
If our children are going to grow up to live healthy and balanced lives, they also need to learn social skills and sensory skills. They need to laugh, have fun and make mistakes so they can learn from them.
Instead of teaching our kids to test well and pushing intellectual stimulation so young, we could allow them to develop at their own pace and encourage them to be curious. Yes, Baby Einstein is a great program for children, but so are toy cars and dollhouses.
Encouraging curiosity stimulates the natural instinct to want to learn and helps cultivate an environment where they are free to ask questions. This is the type of learning that will lead to the natural development of the brain— the interest in doing deeper research, the understanding that complex ideas need to unfold over time, and the ability to actually retain information instead of just memorizing it.
I never met a parent who ever said, “Gee, I wish I had worked more and spent much less time with my young children.” Do yourself and your child a favor; take the time to talk with and listen to your child, not at them. Do this even for just a few minutes, every single day of their lives.
Your child deserves to enjoy their one and only childhood.
- Keep in mind that they are just children.
- Relate to them at their level.
- Respect their uniqueness. Children’s brains are not fully developed until about age 25. As their brains are growing, they learn differently than an adult and require a different and more patient approach.
Therefore, the most important thing we can do for our kids is to equally emphasize the value of character and social relationships as much as we do academic endeavors. When we do this for our child, we are helping to create a well-rounded adult.
The Most Important Thing To Remember
Your child has the rest of her or his life to go to school and work. Their childhood is a relatively small but incredibly vital part of their entire life. Love them by letting them be children. As the school year is about to begin, let’s all try to keep that in mind. They’ll grow up soon enough.
I hope that at least some of this article was helpful. If you would like to make any comments, have any questions, or you would like more information to help you and your child, I would love to hear from you.