Do we need to ‘shape’ our kids?
Have you ever wondered if having high expectations is good or bad for your child?
Numerous parent educators suggest that children rise to the occasion when they are held to high standards and this seems true for some children. Others, however, feel like failures when they bring home a less than perfect grade. The answer, I believe, lies in how the expectations are expressed and how parents (and teachers) view their children.
When I first became the Principal of Temple Sholom School, I set one of the goals for the students as: Become the best person that you can become. Years later, as a wiser Principal, I adjusted that goal to state: Be who you are. Even better would be: Find out who you are. Why the shift in language?
I became aware that as parents and teachers there's a tendency to take on the role of shaping our children and our students rather than finding out who they are. We want them to learn and to grow in order to improve themselves. We want them to achieve greatness in some way – to find their niche and make a contribution. Our high expectations can inadvertently give them the message that they are not good enough or that they are a disappointment.
When we are brutally honest and ask the question, "Why do we want our children to excel?" we may discover that we want them to make us look good so that we can bask in reflected glory. We may put pressure on them to achieve the things that we were not able to achieve. Perhaps we want to live vicariously through them, or have them take care of us eventually. Could it be that we worry about them ending up alone or on the street if they don't get ahead in life? Our worries send the unspoken message that they're not capable or not safe, and these fearful notions are not healthy for them.
When we ask our children to be the best they can be we take away their joy and their childhoods by focusing them on their future greatness rather than celebrating their present playfulness and fun.
In the coaching work I do with adults, almost all of them feel that they didn't live up to their parents' expectations and took on a belief that they're a disappointment. That belief still colours the experience they are having in life today. It shows up in anxiety and stress. Our children need not take on that belief if we reassure them that their achievements and failures say nothing about who they truly are. They don't have to achieve to win love and they can't lose love with a poor performance.
And here’s the thing: Is it really possible to become something that we are not already? Of course, we need to acquire skills and experiences, but the potential to be good at those skills is already within us. We have the ability to read before we learn how to put letters together to form words. That ability just needs to be drawn out of us and then we can do it. Children need to hear that they have innate talents and abilities. Then we can help them to remove the barriers that they and we may have to recognizing and activating their potential.
The key message is that whether or not a child rises to their potential, their worth does not change. The Inherent Worth they possess is unchangeable and infinite. So is ours. Our worth is not established by having students that excel or children who make us proud any more than their worth is established by living up to our expectations.
What would the world look like if children knew that they were good enough as they are? If they were encouraged to be kids, to explore and have fun? Play is the work of children and it’s how they learn best. This simple shift in attitude from wanting children to become something we want them to be, to recognizing their essential perfection and their Inherent Worth whether or not that potential is realized, is a fundamental shift and one that will increase the mental-health and the creativity of our children.
1) Check your motivation when setting high expectations for your child.
2) Discover your child's innate talents and abilities. Find out what they love to do. Be curious.
3) Focus on their present playfulness rather than their future career.
4) Help your child to understand that their worth is inherent and does not come from their accomplishments.
5) Taking off the stress of high expectations will lead to more creativity in the long run and happier children.
For more information about the concept of Inherent Worth (solid self-esteem), you can visit my website and sign up for my newsletter to receive a copy of A Parent's Guide to Inherent Worth.
I know firsthand the emotional and financial costs of having a troubled teenager and I don’t want that to happen to you. That's why I wrote my book What They Don't Teach in Prenatal Class: The Key to Raising Trouble-Free Kids and Teens (available on Amazon).