Focusing on things like grades, winning, and giving your kid a leg up is a surefire recipe for failure and unhappy, discontented kids. Too many parents are being driven by the mantra of giving their kids a leg up on the competition, i.e. your children’s friends and playmates. The fear that our children are going to get behind and not keep up with the ‘Jones’ children’ pushes parents to overprotect, push, and micromanage. In essence, that course of action is telling us something about how we view childhood.
Childhood is not a race nor a contest. It should not be about prizes at graduation or building a rock-solid college resume. The focus should not be on winning youth national championships nor gaining college scholarships. Grade school should not be solely about high school prep, and high school should not be exclusively geared for college prep. Childhood ought to be about learning social-emotional intelligence, i.e. getting to know yourself, self-motivation, self-efficacy, building grit, and learning to get along with others. Growing up should be about learning through play, playing for plays sake and the love of the game, learning for the love of learning, and taking risks, challenging yourself, and having adventures. If that sounds cliché, get over it.
Children’s constant busyness, supervised activities, and constant performing for adults leaves them little time for self-exploration, reflection, soul-searching, try new things, and follow their passions. This race to nowhere leaves kids discontented, restless, addicted to external praise, stressed out, and with a belief that it and they are never good enough. In addition, there is very little time to be a kid.
If you believe that childhood is about giving your child an edge, then you will hard-pressed to not mold, micromanage, and motivate your child to stay on a course that you set for them. However, that is just not how life works. Every child has their own destiny, their own path to follow. They must learn their own lessons in their own way and in their own time. Kids must build their own story and make their own unique mark on this world.
So, stop parenting out of fear and competing with other kids and their parents. Provide plenty of down time for kids to play and follow their own interests. Give them time to just be. Let your kids be kids. Focus on what’s really important and watch your kids brighten and soar.