One of the tougher challenges we face as parents (and teachers) is knowing when to give our kids a loving but firm “push” for their own good—as in encouraging them to work a little harder or stick with something—and when we need to pull the plug on an endeavor or let them make their own decisions.
There are no hard and fast answers to this question, of course, but when parents seek my advice on the issue, I’ve found it helpful to suggest that they ask themselves at least a few of the following questions:
What’s most important?
Not all of your child’s activities are equally important. If you believe that he’s struggling to stay above water, it’s probably wise to let go of guitar lessons or the part-time job to free up time for higher priorities, like academics or getting more rest. Talk to him about the importance of making good choices about how he spends his time, reminding him that those activities will be there for him to resume later when things under control.
Are other people counting on your child?
Along with learning to say no, as parents we also know that sometimes we need to help our kids say yes to sticking with a commitment—especially when other people are involved, as in the case of group projects, team sports, or volunteer work.
Am I modeling the kind of habits I want my child to develop?
If your child consistently observes you choosing to dig in and work harder when the going gets a little tough—or wisely pulling the plug when something just isn’t working out—she’ll be more likely to be receptive to your advice when she is facing similar challenges —not to mention more likely to emulate those same positive qualities herself.
Is your child facing a long-term problem or going through a temporary rough patch?
When I was in graduate school, I saw many students who wanted to throw in the towel when they became overwhelmed by the competing pressures of school, work and family. In some cases, quitting may have been the right decision, but in others these students were dealing with short term hardship—a sick child, a big work deadline, or an extra-challenging class. It would have been a shame for them to throw away the hard work they’d invested over a temporary situation—and likewise, there may be times when your child needs some healthy pressure from you to power through a temporary rough patch. After he gets through the experience, he’ll have gained self-confidence, skills and perspectives that will come in handy the next time he’s faced with a similar challenge.
Does your child need or want you to push?
Even high-achieving kids get overwhelmed or stuck in a cycle of bad habits once in awhile. When that happens to your child, he might need or even secretly want a few friendly but firm nudges to get re-focused and motivated. You may need to be more hands-on than usual during these periods, but there’s always time to back off later once he gets back on track.
In the big scheme of things, does this really matter?
We want the whole world for our kids, but as mentioned earlier, life is about making choices. When you find yourself pushing your child to make perfect grades or sign up for everything, step back and look at the big picture. Will it really matter in the long run if she stays up late to revise her essay for a fifth time? Does she have to go to choir practice tonight, or is it okay to skip just this once? Is it a good idea for her to go to church camp over the break, or can it wait until next year?
Is your child ready to handle a little pressure?
Kids have a way of developing on their own schedules. While one fifth grader might balance homework, gymnastics and softball with no problems, the fifth grader sitting next to her might need to focus all of her energy on school in order to keep her grades up and her stress level down.
Is your child’s wellness at risk?
Sometimes it’s in your child’s best interest to “tough it out”, but there are other situations where sticking with something isn’t worth the toll the endeavor is taking on your child’s mental or physical health—or yours, for that matter.
Is it time to let your child find her own path?
Few things are more satisfying that sharing interests and affinities with our kids, but sometimes that just doesn’t work out. You may have loved your time in Girl Scouts, for example, but that doesn’t mean that your daughter will want to follow the same path. If you’ve given her plenty of exposure to an activity and she remains unenthusiastic, it may be time to pull the plug in favor of letting her develop her own interests.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Kaye Rogers received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration with a minor in Statistics from the University of North Texas. She earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Tarleton State University. A life-long Texan, she has taught math and science in public schools and also in Spain. She has worked in public education for over 18 years, where she is committed to innovation and choice for families. She has opened three choice schools and is currently the Director of Virtual Learning at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, where she oversees their state-wide virtual school and blended schools program.
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