“The Dangers of RUSHING your children through their childhood”

Last week, I touched on a parent’s ego and how it may affect expectations and parenting decisions.  From the make-up-laden-toddlers in beauty pageants to kids being pushed to live the unrealized dreams of their parents, a parent’s ego can have a big impact on parenting decisions and behaviour.

As I mentioned last week, Carl Jung said it best.  “Nothing has a stronger influence on the development of a child that the unlived life of their parents.”

Why do some parents push and rush their children through their childhood?  In David Elkind’s amazing and groundbreaking book from early 1980s, “The Hurried Child”, he warns of the stress and dangers of wanting our children to grow up too fast.

He coined the term, “The HURRIED CHILD SYNDROME”.  A condition in which parents over schedule their children’s lives, push them hard for academic success, and expect them to behave and react as miniature adults.

As Toronto writer Kathleen McDonnell notes, “More and more parents are imposing adult standards of success and achievement on children, jumping on the early-learning bandwagon and pushing their kids to excel at earlier and earlier ages. And whole sectors of the economy have sprung up to exploit parents’ fears that unless their kids get on the fast-track, taking advantage of this “critical window of opportunity and growth”, they’ll end up losers in the high-tech competitive marketplace.”

From the earliest moments of their newborn’s life, parents have always wanted the best for baby. And then of course there have always been some of those parents who wanted their baby to be best.

Over the years, many new books have reflected the desire to have the alpha baby – “Give Your Child a Superior Mind” or, “How to Raise a Brighter Child”.  Society has gone bananas with parents pushing their child to learn and excel and to be that exceptionally gifted child.  From Baby Einstein to Jumpstart baby and infomercials claiming “Your Baby Can Read”, the pressure appears to be on to not let your child fall behind.   There are parents asking their child’s grade 6 teacher if their child has the ‘right stuff’ for University.   When will the madness stop?   To quote the 80s prophetic, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “RELAX!”

But isn’t it our job as parents to help our children prosper? After all, shouldn’t parents help their kids do the best they can and lead varied, interesting lives? Many psychologists and sociologists say the problem is that hurried children “don’t get much of a childhood”. Their lives are fully scheduled and their parents place unrealistic demands on them to do well in school and in extracurricular activities.

I have started coaching my son in minor hockey this year and wow – what an eye opener!  You don’t have to look far to find examples of kids being pushed to do what dad couldn’t.   In the first coaching meeting, there were stories shared about fanatical parents being barred from arenas for poor behaviour relating to coaches and referees.

There are also indications that pushing kids too hard, too early can lead to big problems down the road. Psychologists point to disturbing trends such as kids in elementary school suffering from stomach problems, anxiety, and depression; the tripling of the U.S. teen suicide rate since 1980; and the alarming number of children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in recent years.

Back when I was teaching preschool, I had a father that was constantly asking me what his daughter had done that day or more specifically what she had learned that day.  I would answer, “Well, she seemed to really enjoy the sand table, enjoyed some time finger painting and learned more about sharing when she wanted the same truck as a little boy.”  The father would then question why his daughter didn’t know the alphabet or her numbers.   I would reply, “Well, she is 2!”  He responded with this gem, “Our neighbour’s kid knew the alphabet and could count to 12 when he was 2…”

Please don’t try to keep up with Jones’, (they may be exaggerating anyway) – every child is on their own path of development – if you constantly compare your child to another, they may never size up.   These early ‘reading’ “Superkids” may be a step ahead when Kindergarten arrives – you bet they are – they have already been “word calling” for 2 years!

Evidence concludes that their peers will catch up by grades 3 and 4 while these stressed out “Superkids” may be behind in other areas of development;  specifically social/emotional development and self-esteem.  The early reader isn’t always the lifelong bookworm…

Resist the urge to buy into society’s message that you are doing a disservice to your child and missing ‘the critical learning window’ by letting your children be children.  Your baby doesn’t need flashcards, your baby needs YOU!  Time with you – your voice, smell, and play will imprint much more than a picture of an apple.  Play is child’s work, let it unfold naturally.

  • Can you be content with a NORMAL developing child; aka “an average” child?
  • Can you trust nature and your child’s development path?
  • Can you trust the teachers and schools to alert you to any areas of concern regarding your child’s development?

Trust your instinct, you know your child better than anyone – if you sense that your child may need some help with core foundational skills, then seek support and help, but please don’t panic if your 5 year old doesn’t know the Canadian provinces AND territories or the difference between purple and puce.  Do you?

Let’s not schedule every minute of your child’s life.  Relax and smell the flowers – enjoy the moments.   It is not a waste of time to let your kids do nothing from time to time; it could be the best use of their time.

Try to resist the urge to hurry your children through their childhood.

Let’s let our children be children.

Chill out and let them be little.

Don’t worry, be happy!


Until next time…