Raise Your Children To Be Ordinary
If you want your children to be happy, expect them to do average things. Don’t burden them with your expectation that they should be extraordinary.
For children play is the work that they need to do. Play should proceed without parental structure or rules, other than those that keep children safe. Childhood is about experimentation, exploration and excitement. There is something new to discover everyday. Encouragement is not the same thing as expectation. One can exist without the other.
Parents are often as excited about watching their kids making discoveries as the kids are. However, excitement in a child can quickly be extinguished by an overbearing parent who turns that excitement into the chore of fulfilling an expectation.
For example, a first foray with finger paint can be one of the silliest things you ever do with your little one. A mess will certainly ensue, and the mess is half the fun of the exercise. For your child the mess might be the reason for finger painting. Expecting a Picasso from a three year old is unrealistic. Expecting paint in her hair, on her clothes, in your hair and on your clothes is more probable.
A masterpiece will not be the outcome in anyone else’s eyes but your own. Buying an abundance of craft and art supplies and trying to channel that initial artistic enthusiasm can backfire on you. Your intentions may be good, but the underlying motivation, that your child will excel in the art world, may just quell their curiosity. They may love making a mess and the art is just a byproduct.
A mistake parents often make when a child is enthusiastic, is to double down and begin pushing the new activity that was so well received by their kid. Kicking a ball in the yard with your 5 year old does not need to lead to soccer camp, cleats, shin guards and time spent doing drills.
Maybe kicking the ball around in the yard with your 5 year old should lead to more of that same activity. Soccer is a team sport, you and your children are on the same team. Playing with you is most likely what they are excited about.
Growing up in an urban neighborhood with dozens of kids on my block gave me the experience of learning sports from my peers. We played kickball in a vacant lot, baseball was modified because of fenced yards. If you hit the ball over the fence into the adjacent yard, that was a single. If a hit went over two fences, that meant a double, anything after that was a home run. We lost a lot of baseballs. The lady next door had a few close calls and one broken window.
No one expected to become a MLB player. That doesn’t mean we didn’t dream big. One thing we didn’t have were parents that expected us to perform at a major league level or outperform our peers during T-ball.
That is the burden we now place on our own children. By the time I had boys of my own, the shift to organized activities had occurred. “Free Range” parenting was no longer an option for most families and kids were herded to activities by overly anxious Moms and Dads looking to raise the next Derek Jeter.
Parenting is the ultimate balancing act. How do you teach your children to do their best without teaching them that only the best are good enough?
I don’t have an answer to that. If I did I’d be the worlds greatest Mom. And for sure I am not. But I have two adult sons, both doing good work and living fruitful lives. I feel like I’ve been a successful parent. I’m still waiting for one of them to win a Nobel Prize or be elected President. (God forbid on that last one).
What I can say is this. Be supportive. Be overjoyed when your child does something they clearly enjoy. Don’t push, don’t prod. Just ask and take the answers that you get seriously. Children at age 4 or 5 should not be crying on the football field because their cleats hurt, or their helmet is giving them a headache. Sitting on the grass picking clover is an appropriate activity for 4 and 5-year-old kids participating in team sports. Don’t discourage a future horticulturalist.
Little girls and boys should dance if they want to. That doesn’t mean you must instantly enroll them in ballet, tap and modern dance classes. Banging on pots and pans or singing in the bath tub does not mean a drum set or voice lessons. Learning to do a cartwheel does not mean a child needs gymnastics classes three afternoons a week AND Saturday mornings. Skiing can be just a fun, family activity. That fast little 6 year old does not have to have a coach and a race schedule.
Sports and art and dance and play should all be just a way for your kids to get out some of their creative energy. It’s most important that they are doing what they do because THEY want to be doing it, not because you have prescribed it for them.
When your daughter or son comes to you and asks, fervently, for piano lessons, or to attend a soccer clinic, or for a season pass to their favorite ski mountain, listen. That is when you can have a conversation with them about taking whatever their passion is to the next level.