Get The Pressure Right

Get The Pressure Right
  • words Julie Robinson

It is a great dilemma for parents: when does pushing become too pushy? Mother and headmistress, Julie Robinson, comes up with some answers...

One of the hardest things a parent ever has to do is letting go of their children. Children grow; they spread their wings and develop as individuals and it is the duty of parents to support and guide rather than to stifle and pressurise. A child neglected fails to thrive ? a child stifled cannot grow. It is a great dilemma for parents: when does pushing become too pushy?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive rule book for parenting. Different strategies work with different children but a few basic ingredients such as security, love and good communication add to a recipe for success. The pushy, or 'helicopter', parent who tries to live through their child, is doomed to unhappiness. Parents who - for whatever reason - control every aspect of a child's life demonstrate selfishness. Aren't we relieved to have a healthy child and don't we just want them to be happy? From those starting points, success can follow in many fields but only when that child takes responsibility for his or her success.

Children love praise, especially when it is deserved. They also need boundaries in order to feel secure. We hear increasingly of parents who are so keen to be popular that they try to be their children's friends. They forget that they are the adults and they are in charge. Our children learn values and develop personal routines from us and we need to set a standard. Sometimes, it is only through perseverance and self-discipline that rewards come.

The first step out into the world is when the parent drops the child at the school gate. Some parents find it terribly difficult to let go but they do their children no favours by hanging on too tightly. Young children are nurtured and protected by their parents. As they grow into young adults they need support, guidance and the space to feel that they are responsible for themselves. They cannot become independent unless they have the opportunity to make their own decisions and their own mistakes. If Helen Keller is right, that 'life is either a daring adventure or nothing', then we must support our children in taking risks so that they can live.

At the same time, DO take an interest in school work, homework and assessment results. Support school systems by providing a quiet place for your child's study. Don't do the work for them (seriously, this does happen!) but encourage the child to do his or her best and reward hard work and good results. Some families employ contracts, drawn up between the children and their parents. The child negotiates the standard and if he or she fails to meet the target, there is no reward. This is considered fair by the children and provides a mature twist on the carrot and stick process of motivation. When surveyed, school-age children will say that the best teachers are strict teachers. You know where you are with a consistent teacher, and a teacher who is 'too soft' will not win the respect of his or her pupils. Praise has to be won. It is the same with parenting.

Children socialise and learn to get along in their school community. We cannot choose their friends or protect them from their enemies. They must learn how to find their own way. Over-protective parents merely attract the wrong kind of attention to children and can even encourage a child to play the part of victim rather than learning how to cope. A parent we know says that she has learnt that it is counter-productive to try to fight her child's battles for him. She advises not to tell the child what to say in a difficult situation but DO listen to the problem and talk through what the message will be. Then share the triumph or commiserate over the disappointment afterwards.

Failure is not bad! Constant success never taught anyone very much but failures help us to learn what not to do and failures, felt so bitterly, provide vivid and effective learning opportunities: lessons for life. So when your child comes home bewailing a huge huge disaster, do not be sucked into the misery but take a pragmatic view: what can we learn from this. DO be sympathetic, but do not pander to the child. Children are able to move on much more quickly than their parents.

Some children are so desperate for attention that they will complain about school - even about bullying - because they know that it will attract daily one-to-one time with their parent or parents. Never start the journey home from school by asking what went wrong today. Even if your child insists on being miserable, if he or she will speak (and even this becomes a challenge in the teenage years), encourage him or her to tell you something good that happened for balance.

And don't believe everything you hear! The former Headmaster of Westminster, John Rae, writes in his memoirs that if parents don't believe everything that they hear about school then school won't believe all that it hears about home life!

Increasingly, the parent will not know what goes on in the classroom. Certainly, the child's perception of events might vary significantly from that of the teacher. Remember that although you know your child extremely well, you are not there to see him or her at school. You only hear one part of the story at home. Say to the teacher, "I wonder whether you can help me. Sam has been saying some things about X and I want to be helpful. Can you let me know what is going on?" This way, you will develop a supportive and co-operative relationship with staff. Going into school on the offensive, criticising teachers heavily, demanding action and causing conflict is unhelpful. Choose when to step in at school. On the one hand, you do not wish to be seen as a constant interference. On the other hand, you would not wish a situation to escalate. Quite often, a child will want to confide a problem but won't want it taken out of his or her hands.

Any success (or failure) can only belong to a child when he or she is able to take credit for it. Children need boundaries. They need praise for what is good and caring criticism for that which is not good. Ask a child about his or her favourite teacher and you will hear that consistency and fairness are more important than kindliness.