Spring is here, and all across America, teams are forming for summer sports leagues. If you want to see parents push their children to succeed, go to a little league basketball, baseball, or soccer game. Somewhere along the line, the parents and grandparents must have forgotten that this is supposed to be a FUN GAME - not an exercise in frustration! My husband and I attend our great-niece's ballgames, and we are astounded at the behavior of many of these adults. They yell and scream at the children as if this were the World Series, the World Cup, or the Final Four! We want to shout back... "They are in the FIFTH GRADE! It's just a GAME!" But we sit politely on our hands and yell words of encouragement when possible and cheer our team - and shake our heads in disgust and disbelief.
So how far SHOULD you push your children to succeed? Some would argue that these parents and grandparents are merely trying to help their child to learn and improve their skills. But isn't that why the team has a coach? Don't we trust him/her to complain to the referee when the call is questionable? Do we not believe that the coach will point out errors to his/her team members and help them make corrections?
What about the "pageant moms and dads" who prod their little girls (AND little boys) to smile a certain way, to turn and priss and shake and shimmy wearing full-blown makeup, hair that would overpower Dolly Parton, and even fake teeth to cover the 6-year-old snaggletooth smile? Even when the child is obviously weary, if not having an out-and-out meltdown, the parents persevere, miming the "routine" from the back of the room and using every possible method to "convince" (coerce?) the child to continue.
On the other hand, I know children who simply have to say, "I don't want to," and the parent says "Okay," and that is that! When my niece was four, she wanted to start dance lessons. I took her to the studio and we met the instructor and she enrolled. I bought her the requisite leotards, leather ballet shoes, tights and more. The day came for the first lesson, and my sister told me, "She doesn't want to go." I arrived to get my niece for the lesson, and she repeated, "I'm not going. I don't want to take dance lessons." I told her she had to at least go with me to tell the instructor she was not going to take the lessons (thinking all the while that once she got there, she would settle in and enjoy it). She refused... "You go tell her." Her mom backed up her decision. I reluctantly went to the studio and sheepishly asked for a refund.
My niece played "dress-up" in the tights, leotards and ballet slippers. From that point onward, she was never pushed to do anything she didn't want to do. She took piano lessons for a few years, then stopped. She was in band for a year or so, then she quit. She did take dance lessons eventually, but only for a few years, and then she opted to drop those, also.
There has to be a happy medium. I know many well-adjusted kids whose parents nudge them to do things they are not all that excited about doing, but the parents realize the value in the experience... and the necessity of certain things, like attending school each day, church attendance, and sometimes participation in extracurricular activities. Parents may insist that older teens get a summer job and not just lie around and do nothing. Children may have chores to do around the house and yard. And very few kids will tell you they enjoy carrying out the trash or picking up their room! But it builds character and teaches responsibility, honor, and perseverance.
A friend of mine has a seventh-grade son. He was old enough this year for our church's youth choir. She told me that he was a little reluctant to go... unsure of whether he would enjoy it. She told him, "You have to try it. If you don't like it, you don't have to continue, but you have to give it a few weeks." He loves the choir... and he will benefit from the experience. But had my friend not pushed, her son might not have gone. To me, THIS is an example of a GOOD push.
I believe that parents should evaluate each situation and ask themselves these questions:
* What are the long-term ramifications? Will it matter six days, six weeks, six months from now whether my child did this?
* Is this something insignificant (like a missed layup on the basketball court) or does it really matter (like school attendance)?
* If I let this issue slide, what impact will this have on future decisions?
* Am I teaching my child to follow through on commitments and promises?
* Am I in essence bullying my child?
* Am I setting a good example in my own life? How hard do I push myself?
* Is this something that *I* want more than my child?
We all want our children to be the best and brightest they can possibly be. And sometimes that means we must push them in the right direction. Knowing how hard and how far to push requires you to know your child... his/her temperament, what "works"- and what doesn't, and when to say "When!" And in the end, your child has to know that you will not back down and give in just because he/she challenges your decision. On the other hand, YOU must be sure that you are always acting in your child's best interest and not imposing your own will upon him/her.
Ask yourself, "Are my motives pure? Am I truly considering my child's best interests, or is this *push* for ME?" You must determine if you are *pushing* toward your child's success or what others will perceive as your own. If your motives include anyone other than your child, a re-evaluation is definitely in order.