To Push Your Kids, or Not?



When my son was born, I doubted myself about many things. If I would be a good mother. If I would clip his tiny fingers with the nail-clippers. If I would drop him on his head and cause brain damage. If I could raise a confident child.

But, there was one thing I did not worry about. I always felt certain that my son would be good at school. We come from a long line of academics, and PhD’s, and I felt certain he would have got the A+ genes that I was blessed with. Heck, with only two degrees, I would be considered the least bright in my family.

So, imagine my confusion when my son came home without any A’s on his report card, for not one, but two grades. At first I thought there must be some mistake. Were they SURE this was my son’s marks? Then, I thought perhaps they were not marking him right, so I asked the teacher about her criteria. I convinced myself for a time that the school system had gone down the tubes, with odd marking practices … whoever heard of doing math in a team? But, no, that couldn’t explain it all.

Then I got to my son. “I just don’t want any A’s mommy”, proclaimed my 7 year old. What?…Why not? Wasn’t it obvious that one should want good grades? But, try as I might, I can’t seem to convince him. He’d rather get decent but average marks, and just play with his cars instead.

A few times, my husband and I have intervened on an assignment or two, to “show him how it’s done”. Yes, indeed, he got A’s on those assignments. But, it still didn’t seem to motivate him overly much to repeat the effort.

So, is it our responsibility to push/force him to study since he’s capable? Or just let him work to his interest level?

Taking a poll of friends, they seem to fall into two camps depending on the way they were raised. Some of us, including myself, were “pushed” to do things that we showed any amount of talent in. We were coaxed, bribed, cajoled, threatened into going to our music/dance/piano lessons. As it turns out, we ended up pretty successful at the things we were forced to do. But, there were at times, tears of protest. Not all the time, mind you, but definitely some. And other times, we definitely enjoyed the great feeling of being successful, and the acknowledgement that comes with it. However, many of us wonder what we might have chosen to do instead, had we been given a chance. Did we miss our true calling?

The other group, was not encouraged in any one activity. They flitted from one to the next, until as adults, they felt that there was never any one thing they were truly accomplished about. They wished their parents had forced them practice, or taken more of an interest. They even went so far as to blame their parents for their own lack of talent.

So, which is it? Force them to be accomplished, risking their missing their true calling, or let them try everything under the sun, and become master of none? Dr. Shefali, author of multiple books, writes about it in her blog: Your child is ordinary, congratulations!

Countless parents believe they need to “optimize” their children and feel guilty if they don’t push them—all because of a deeply ingrained fear-driven idea that we need our children to reach for an imaginary “potential.”….

When we shift from defining potential as something in the future and move into the recognition of each child’s potency in the here and now, our entire perception of what is “extraordinary” shifts….

And when we do, our children reveal themselves to be gifted with abundant qualities. It is here – in our attention to the here and now that we become aware that every child is both gifted and ordinary at the same time.

I opted for trying to help my son find his interests so “sticking with it” would come naturally, and he would want to practice. This meant giving up the idea that it was my right to choose the activity, but also taking responsibility for making his learning accessible once he did show an interest.

Then a friend said to me, “Why it’s obvious, he’s interested in cars. Why don’t you do anything with that?” I had always dismissed his keen interest as typical of boys his age, but realized he had a unusual interest in them. He read newspaper articles with cars. Fact books about cars. And could recognize many models on the road from afar. He could give, at age 7, a stunning amount of advice on what cars his parents should buy next, referring to facts about acceleration speeds and price.

So, I got him some books on cars with facts, figures, and another one on how they work. He enjoys them daily, and there is no question of self-motivation. I see that he is driven, engaged, and focused on his chosen area of expertise. Though my husband and I are not into cars at all, we’ve made the effort to take him to the car show, and try to keep up with his interest. But largely, he “drives” this activity all on his own!

I don’t need to nag him to “practice” his cars. Nor are there any tears when it’s “car time”. Who knows, maybe it’s a passing fad in his life. Or, it could be his calling. A little faith and time will tell. For now, I’m content to let him follow his passions, and enjoy witnessing his eyes light up as he does his favorite activity, never once feeling he “has to”. I don’t promise that I will never sit him down to do his french grammar practice, but I will never forget what true interest looks like on my son. And that truly is an A+!



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