This article first appeared on The Good Men Project and has been republished with permission.
It is so easy for us as parents to try to control our children. We, sometimes purposefully and sometimes unknowingly, push our thoughts, opinions, desires, etc. on to our children. Sometimes being a parent makes you feel “stuck,” and by pushing your child in a specific direction that you desire them to go, it makes you feel unstuck.
Yes, you ARE pushing your child, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.
Unfortunately, more often than not, forcing our children is ineffective and can backfire. The belief us “pushers” have, is that we feel, that if we push and “direct” our children enough, we might, in turn, raise children with exceptional talents and assured futures. The incorrect belief here is that our children need us to push them to be a great talent and have a great future. They don’t.
An old New York Times article referenced a woman names Diana Baumrind, a Clinical and Developmental Psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Baumrind contended that her research studies found that “the optimal parent is one who is involved and responsive and who sets high expectations, but still respects her child’s autonomy.”
Autonomy. This is so very important for our children.
Sue Grossman, author of an article titled, “Offering Children Choices: Encouraging Autonomy and Learning While Minimizing Conflicts” affirmed “that giving children choices throughout the day is beneficial, even crucial to their development.” The article went on to describe how children, whose autonomy has been encouraged, feel in control over themselves. Additionally, they have a good sense of self-esteem, strong cognitive development skills, and strong morals/principles. They are also good at accepting responsibility, minimizing conflict and are committed to learning.
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So, how do we foster our children’s independence? By letting them develop their interests organically. By not pushing them to do things that they don’t want to do and/or are not excited about trying. We stop forcing our agenda onto them.When you let your child’s interest in things and activities develop organically, you are telling them that they are powerful and intelligent. You are giving them the confidence and space they need to feel secure enough to explore the world around them and to find what makes them happy and inspires them. They will be self-motivated and not merely motivated by the opportunity to please you.
Here is how you can let your child’s interests develop in an organic, unforced way:
- Let your child guide you instead of you guiding them.
- Pay attention to whether your child is showing you that they are more of a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner.
- Talk to your child about their likes and dislikes.
- Talk to your child about what makes them happy and what scares them.
- Praise your child for things she does well and praise your child for trying new things.
- Praise your child for putting forth effort with challenging tasks.
- Help to logistically facilitate extra-curricular activities and social opportunities, that your child wants to do, and that build on your child’s strengths and interests.
- If your child is not sure what interests her, take your child to the library and help her select books or articles about different topics of interest.
- Let your child teach or show you something he is good at or proud of.
- Make time to provide your child with opportunities to explore different, even some out-of-the-box areas of interest.
- Motivate your child to stay engaged in an interest for a little bit longer, but do not force them if they seem “over it.”
- Instead of you coming up with an activity or pointing out a possible interest, stop and wait to see what your child is already doing first; abandon your own idea and meet them where they are already engaged.
- Take note of which activities make your child smile and laugh and do more of those.
- Pay attention to what gets and keeps your child’s attention and find activities that are in a similar realm and can do the same for them.
- Overall, what is most important is that we, as parents, stop worrying about our children’s future, and stop rushing it as well. We all want to provide our kids with the best chances for success. However, we need to realize that this holy grail of “success” is just our kids being happy and doing what interests them. There is no goal that they need or should reach.
We need to stop treating our kids as little-adults and let them grow up in a slower, more harmonious, peaceful and natural way. We need to stop forcing an organized activity schedule and allow for more free time, relaxation and play or at least maintain a better balance. We need only to encourage our children to do what they want to do.
“I don’t want my child to follow in my footsteps, I want them to take the divergent path next to me and go further than I could have ever dreamt possible.” —Author Unknown