My parents will agree that being able to motivate your kids so they would excel in school is certainly something to be proud of. After all, an early start can do a lot to increase a child’s chances of being admitted in a big school and having the necessary skills needed to cope with a bigger academic workload. However, there’s a fine line between encouraging your child to excel and pressuring him to be at the top of his class. The trick is in finding the right balance of encouragement and support, knowing the tell-tale signs that you’re pushing your child too far, and undoing and unlearning your pushy attitude towards learning.
Pushy parenting: The tell-tale signs
Teacher Jamie Ilao, a junior and senior kinder teacher at KIDS Academy, gives six signs that parents might be pushing their kids a little too far. “There are some things you need to ask yourself to determine if you might be putting undue pressure on your child when it comes to learning,” says Ilao.
1. Do you expect your child to fulfill some of your failed dreams or to continue the legacy of your success?
2. When something upsets you, do you find yourself projecting your own frustrations on your child?
3. Do you have the tendency to compare your child’s skills and class standing with other children?
4. Which is more important to you, garnering awards and getting the highest grades in school or the fun and enjoyment that comes with learning?
5. Does your child display signs of stress (physical, emotional, and psychological) whenever you talk about school?
6. Do you, as a parent, experience any form of stress when it comes to your child’s schooling?
“If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it might be time for you to take a step back and reassess your attitude towards learning and the learning atmosphere you’ve established at home,” explains Ilao. “Parents must remember that how children cope with work later on in their lives is greatly influenced by their childhood activities.” If fun seems to be absent in the school agenda at home, it’s time to come up with a whole new approach - one that won’t have your child stressing out over school.
Yearn to learn
For Ilao, the first step is to know and accept your child’s limitations when it comes to education. “While it is good to push your child with the intention of allowing him to reach his highest potential, you should also remember that he is not a machine,” explains Ilao. “Providing him with a supportive environment and the assurance that you will love and accept him regardless of how he performs helps your child develop a more positive attitude towards learning. He becomes more motivated to learn and obtains a happier outlook in doing his activities when he feels that his parents share the same enthusiasm as he does.”
Paula Aquino, a teacher at the Multiple Intelligence International School, agrees, “Parents should build on their child’s self-esteem. They should show a positive attitude towards learning. Even at the preschool age, it’s important for parents to communicate to their child that it’s okay to make mistakes for as long as he did his best (and even if he didn’t get the highest grade or honor).”
Finding the right balance
Ilao suggests five things you can do with your child in order to keep his thirst for learning alive and well:
1. Make time for downtime.
“It is important for you to give your child time to unwind after school so as not to get him stressed. Playing or simple activities such as listening to soothing music or observing nature can make all the difference. Time for relaxation will make your child feel that he is not being deprived of other things he would like to do. He will not resent the idea of “work” when he realizes this.”
2. Set a reasonable and workable schedule for you and your child.
“Create a schedule that is convenient not only for your child, but also for you. Make sure to include rest time in the schedule so as not to overwork him. Don’t try to do everything all at once.” The more you push him to complete all the tasks, the less he will enjoy and therefore, the less he will learn.
3. Go beyond books.
“Try to integrate his lessons with your daily routine at home or in other venues.” For example, for math skills focused on adding and subtracting, you can have him help you prepare ingredients for cooking in the kitchen. You can also count cars while stuck in traffic. “Count all the blue cars that you see. Then, count all the red cars. And then try to count how many blue and red cars you see all in all!” The more creative your ways are, the more enjoyable it will be for your child.
4. Implement positive reinforcement.
“Sometimes, it helps to reward your child to increase his motivation and interest towards learning. While material rewards seem like the best reinforcement, parents can make the reward something they can experience together with their child.” For example, a biking or camping adventure in exchange for your child’s hard work can be a good family bonding experience.
5. Let your child shine on his own.
“While it definitely helps to have you guide him in every step of his activity, it is also important for parents to take a step back and to simply watch your child do things on his own. This will allow him to develop independence and confidence in doing his work. When he feels that you trust him to accomplish his work on his own, he becomes proud of his work - this encourages him to learn more.”
Justine dela Torre, a technical writer and mom to Juliana Renee, 6, shares her real-life parenting experiences when it comes to learning and growing together with her child:
1. Clue in to learning styles, and find your medium of choice.
“I try to discover the type of learning my daughter enjoys. Julie learns through visuals, music, and enjoys gadgets, and technology. Since she loves tinkering with my iPhone, I make sure to download a variety of educational and age-appropriate software which she can have fun with and learn from at the same time.”
2. Be sensitive to changes in attitudes or behavior.
“It’s important to get clued in on the small things; when Julie shifts her attention to something else, or there is a dip in her enthusiasm or she says she is tired or hungry—these are signs that tell me I’m making her do something she doesn’t enjoy or find interesting.”
3. Timing is everything.
“I try to see my child’s interest levels with different activities while factoring in the element of time as well. A child may not be in the mood to tackle assignments or lessons right after school, so it’s useless to implement a parent-enforced ‘study time’ if he is not in the right state at that time. It may also be because a favorite show is on, so try to work around a schedule wherein he knows he also has time to do the things he likes - either before or after lessons or assignments.”
Getting Back on Track
Have you been pressuring your child about school? Teacher Paula Aquino of the Multiple Intelligence School gives four communication and interaction strategies that can help you and your child discover a love for “learning.”
1. Show enthusiasm for your child’s interests.
“Show him that you value what he values so he finds points of reconnection with you.”
2. Provide your child with multiple entries to learning.
“Introduce activities that are fun and engaging. Kids learn differently so choose an activity that best suits your child.” She adds, “For example, if he is currently learning about plants in school and your child loves to sing, the two of you can make up your own song about plants.”
3. Make it a habit to talk to your child every day in a casual, informal, and non-intimidating environment and tone. “While playing with blocks or molding play dough at home, ask him about what happened in school. Ask about what he learned and what sparked his interest instead of talking about his grades.” This will help your child realize that when it comes to school, you also show a genuine interest in the other things that happen in his day and not just about how well he fared in a test.
4. Be there for your child during his “down days.” There may be times when the pressure to do well has already gotten to your child; this may cause him to feel bad or disappointed if he felt like he didn’t do a good job in school. This is your cue to gently ease him away from this kind of thinking. “Tell him that it’s okay and that you are proud of the fact that he at least tried,” suggests Aquino. “Ask him what the best part of his day was and focus on that instead—that would definitely cheer him up.”
Photo from flickr creative commons