To push or not to push

January 30, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

It's pretty much a given that most parents want the best for their children - good health, good friends, success in school, opportunities to achieve their fullest potential.

Some kids are highly self-motivated, but even the most driven might need a little nudge once in a while - some support and encouragement.

Parents need to push when the health and safety of a child is involved - making sure, for example, that he takes medication and goes to therapy if it has been decided that's needed, says Laurel Brown, a licensed clinical social worker in practice at Brook Lane Health Services in Hagerstown.


But in the realm of getting involved in activities, trying new things, doing their best - when does that nudge become a shove?

Look around. There are plenty of examples. There's the Little League parent berating his son for a strikeout. There's Stage Mother signing her daughter up for hours of dance and singing lessons.

The line between support and encouragement and pushing too hard can be a fine one.

"It's hard when you're a parent," Brown acknowledges.

"We all have dreams for our children," Brown says. But it's important that they become the best "them" they can be - not shaped to a mold of their parent's design.

It's important to keep the goal in mind, she adds.

You want to have someone who loves life. "Most people would prefer to have a happy person with an average life than a miserable, drug-addicted superstar," Brown says.

Spend time with your kids, and listen to them, say Brown, Susie Michael and psychiatrist Dr. Alvin A. Rosenfeld.

Michael, elementary guidance specialist with Washington County Public Schools, says it's important that parents establish good attitudes early - a family attitude toward the value of learning, encouragement to try new things and to always do your best. If such ethics are there from the beginning, kids will become self-motivated, and the need for parents to push will decrease.

Parents need to have an objective picture of their child's strengths and the school's expectations, Michael says. Expectations for what kids should know when they get to kindergarten has grown.

She advises that parents be involved at school - get to know the teachers, administrators and counselors.

Every child is unique. Children don't learn the same way on the same day, she adds. If there are problems, rule out learning disabilities, organizational problems.

Be mindful of rewarding effort. Encourage kids to do their best, to not be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. Failure is part of life, Michael says. We can learn from mistakes.

Parents are concerned about sedentary, disinterested and apathetic kids, Brown says.

Making sure there is balance in a kid's life is not pushing. It's part of being a healthy person, Brown says.

It's OK for a parent to say: If you're going to be on the computer and play X number of hours of video games, you're going to do X number of hours getting physical. If organized sports are not appealing, consider other options: walking an elderly neighbor's dog, starting an after-school yardwork business, getting involved in pick-up games or just riding a bicycle.

If they are 9- or 10-year-old couch potatoes or shy kids who need encouragement, you sign them up and ask them to do four to six weeks of a new activity, suggests Rosenfeld, co-author of "The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap."

If they don't like it, they can quit. That often helps timid kids try something, find out they like it and keep going with it.

Brown recommends avoiding power struggles by making sure expectations are stated up front. Making sure a child fulfills an obligation is not pushing, Brown says.

For example, your son says he wants to learn to play guitar. Together you come up with a teacher, and you agree to pay for a dozen lessons.

After three, he decides he doesn't like it and wants to quit.

Too bad.

He has to follow through, Brown says.

While they cannot always get their way, children need to know that their parents always are approachable.

If they're afraid to try something because they might fail, spend time with them and tell them about how scared adults sometimes get.

Most kids are not superstars, says Brown. The many other children of average or less-than-average abilities need support and encouragement.

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