On Wednesday, I talked about a NY Times article that discusses the idea of “overparenting.” The article talks about parents doing too much for their kids. Rushing our children like this, the authors say, has harmful effects on the child’s developing sense of self.
I flipped open my Growing Kids God’s Way book tonight and discovered a passage that discusses this idea directly. (I love it when I flip open a book and it gives me exactly the message I need at that moment.)
“All too often, parents rush the process of growing up. Too soon, Dad and Grandpa are signing R.J. up for junior hockey, simply because he was mesmerized by the latest ESPN commercial. … Never mind the fact that R.J. is only four years old and hates the cold. Dad is left coercing, correcting, pleading, and dealing with tears, while R.J. is clearly out of his league,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 178).
It is fantastic when children develop a true passion for a sport or any other extracurricular activity, but when the primary motivation comes from the outside, the child’s sense of self is hindered. The book goes on:
“Maybe you have not rushed your child to the hockey rink lately, but have you rushed him in other behavior activities that are way beyond his intellectual and social readiness or interest? … Think about their readiness to learn. While it is true that the brain grows best when challenged, it is also true that such challenges must be developmentally and age appropriate. Too often, parents push their children into higher learning activities only to discover that their children’s abilities are impaired because they were rushed. … Children in our society are rushed morally, behaviorally, sexually, intellectually, and physically,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 178).
It’s a curious thing, this need of parents to rush their children. We always want the best for them, and we get caught up in this trap that our child has to be better and smarter than every other child. What are some ways to speed the process along? Teach them to read at a year old! Sign them up for competitive chess at age 2! Fill their summers with camps that promise unparalleled enrichment!
Can you detect my sarcasm? Let your child be a child. I remember when my oldest was little. It was easy to get caught up in this competition. He knew all of his letters before he was 2 and he was reading at age 4. But I have since learned that there’s really no point in it at all. Who’s to say that a child who learns his letters at age 2 is going to be smarter than the child who learns them at age 3 or 4? The only thing it tells you for sure is that the parents are motivated to push the child. It really doesn’t say much about the child.
And back when William was little, I heard other parents (parents of children older than mine) say, “What’s the rush?” In my ignorance (or arrogance), I thought, Well, they just don’t understand or care that their child be the best he can be. I have learned so much in my (almost) 8 years as a parent! I’m now the one saying, “What’s the rush?” It’s true, what meaningful advantage will your child have by learning everything a little bit sooner? And do you want to run the risk of burnout by age 6?
Perhaps more to the point, what will your child miss out on by learning academics or being pushed into sports before he is developmentally ready? Most kids are developmentally ready for academics around the age of 5. (There’s a reason schools don’t take them before they’re 5.) When they are 2, they are still figuring out the world. When they are 3, they are learning to play imaginatively (and think critically). Let him develop naturally, and you’ll be sure he doesn’t skip over any critical developmental phases.
In fact, academics will come more easily and naturally when the child is ready. Start early and you’re in for months or years of heartache. Equate it to potty training. If you start before they’re ready, you’ll deal with months and months of accidents and a discouraged mom and child. If you wait until the child shows signs of readiness, you can potty train him in a week. I did!
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. But before I do, I have one request. When you think about starting a new activity (physical, academic, whatever), give some thought as to whether he’s really ready and what might be the harm in waiting a little while longer. Before long, I bet you’ll be the one saying, “What’s the rush?!”