Throughout my career as a primary teacher, I came across many parents who encouraged their children in their academia, either to achieve Level 5/6 in their SATS, to move up to a higher reading book level, to be the fastest at Sports Day and so forth. Some have been subtle, some blatant. Some have used praise, others rewards to help their children to achieve the desired targets.
I think it would be fair to say that the most commonly used term for these parents is ‘pushy’. We are surrounded by stories of parents ‘pushing’ their children from very young ages to achieve and succeed. Perhaps to encourage their children to follow in their own footsteps or, conversely, to make up for unfulfilled dreams and ambitions of their own.
A quick google search throws up pages of articles and forums and, as a generalisation, the term ‘pushy parent’ denotes negativity – Violet Beauregard and her mother were both equally vile in their attitudes and general demeanour. Violet’s mother was ‘pushy’. But you can’t deny that Violet Beauregard was a champion. A winner. The best. Albeit at chewing gum.
I got to thinking. Do children need a gentle push? Are children innately designed to ‘just get by’? To work to a basic level or to produce work of an average standard? Is it our jobs as parents to steer them in the right direction? To help them strive for or desire a higher level of thinking and achieving? To set them up for success? And if so, can we do that without being ‘pushy’?
I couldn’t help but wonder - Is being ‘pushy’ a good thing after all?
I used to believe that children worked so hard in school that home should be their time and that homework seemed harsh and unnecessary. I used to feel sorry for children picked for booster classes during lunchtimes or after school, either to support them one to one or to push them on and challenge them further.
I used to think that, if I were their mum, I would be saying “thank you but no” to such offers, instead insisting it was far more important that they spend their lunchtimes playing with friends and being happy socially.
I still do think that. To a certain extent. After returning to work after maternity leave, I met a little girl. In Year 1. Every day, she came to school proudly holding a little book. In this book were rows of letters, neatly formed and copied by herself. Rows of numbers, equally neatly and accurately formed. She had written her own little sentences based on the spelling words of the week provided by school.
There were addition and subtraction calculations. The book was labelled with her name and she had decorated the front cover. The book had come from home. From her mummy. She was proud as punch to show me. And she absolutely loved it, loved learning – with her mummy at home. In addition to what she was already learning at school. She was a sponge and her mummy, it seemed to me, was making the most of the opportunity. Surely this little girl too will be a winner? The best?
But then I got to thinking – why aim to win? To be the best? Isn’t to be happy better than to be successful? Or can you be both?
Here is what I think.
In that order. But I want my children to feel they have truly worked for both. And that the work they have put in means they deserve both.
With high expectations comes better quality. With better quality comes higher praise. With higher praise comes more desire to achieve. With higher achievements comes more choice. And it is, I believe, choice that opens doors to happiness and success.
Is that pushy? Who knows. Perhaps I’ll forget labels and do what I feel is best.