Single Thought of the Week: Pushy Parents

Jess McGlynnDecember 12, 2012

Last Saturday as I sent Meg off to her dance class again in tears, I began to ponder the price of being a pushy parent.  Which is what I would probably accuse another mother of being if she continually sent her child off to a class she very clearly didn’t want to attend*.

You see, probably unsurprisingly, I’m good at dancing.  It’s something I always regret not pursuing properly.  And so perhaps I am attempting to live vicariously through my daughter…my Other Half would certainly sooner stop paying for the dance class and instead focus on the gymnastics class which she adores going to.

So, I was musing over whether I truly do have my daughter’s best interests at heart or whether I would fall into the category of being a ‘pushy parent’ when I came across an article which suggested that being a ‘pushy parent’ isn’t sending your children to extracurricular activities in the hope of inspiring them to greatness.  It’s sitting with your preschooler and encouraging them to learn to read and write.

Meg is 3 1/2 years old and we regularly sit down and do phonics, writing and counting.  I can say, with great pride, that with just a small amount of prompting, Meg can count up to 100.  Yes, I’m proud of that.  Not because I think it makes me look better than other parents but because it warms the very cockles of my being to see how pleased she is with herself when she gets there.

We also have a book we read often at bedtime, a Fireman Sam phonics book.  It’s not a typical bedtime story but it is one Meg chooses herself and she thoroughly enjoys going through the letters and thinking of various words which start with those letters.  Another favourite game, is playing I-Spy in the car.  Again, all linked with learning phonics.

Am I a pushy parent for encouraging my child to explore learning at such a young age? I would say I was simply preparing her for (at least) the next 13 years of her life.  Because, ultimately I suppose I see it as my responsibility.  I brought her into this world, I want to see her achieve the best that she can.  If the primary school curriculum is so inept (which I believe prompted the original post) then I want to do all I can to make sure my daughter gets the best support she can from home.

I can truly put my hand on my heart and say that it’s not for my own benefit, so that I can ‘prove my own skills and intelligence’ but because from a very early age my daughter has shown a disposition towards reading, writing and talking talking talking.  I am simply supporting her in the things that she would naturally choose to pursue.

So…am I a pushy parent?  Would I still make Meg sit down and do phonics if she showed very little interest in it?  Truthfully, I’d probably try.  Or I’d attempt to teach her through the medium of play, as I do with Eli now.  Yes, at 19 months we do counting games…he can count to 4 if you’re interested to know, do I know whether he’s advanced? No, I’m just proud of HIS ability.

And, right there, is what I think parenting should be about.  Doing the best for YOUR child.  I believe that as parents we know our children better than anyone else, know where their interests lie, know how best they will respond to learning.  And ‘learning’ doesn’t mean sitting down with a pen and paper and writing and doing arithmetic, it can be learning through building towers, or separating items out or any of the hundreds of games your children will engage with on a daily basis. 

Do you think it’s wrong to encourage learning from an early age? 

On doing some research for this post, I also came across several articles which suggested that under 7’s shouldn’t be taught to read and write at school.  I have to massively massively dispute these statements.  I believe that if you introduce reading from an early age then it will become an instinctive part of your children’s lives.  When they start school and have to sit down and read it won’t be a chore for them because it will be a natural experience.

More than this, most children just want to be doing whatever it is their parents are doing, if you show your children that you are enjoying something and involve them in it, then they will adopt that attitude as well.  

In 2011 research was conducted which found that approximately 30% of children in the UK don’t own a single book.  Is it any wonder that we have a growing literacy problem in this country when people don’t even bother to buy their children books?  I honestly believe that having read to both my children since the day they were born has hugely influenced their interest in reading and learning.  And I’m not saying that I categorically have the answer to the literacy problems, ask me again when Eli is 15 whether or not our love of learning rubbed off eternally on him…but I do think as parents it is our responsibility to prepare our children for the world of education.  And to support them on their journey through that.  When you are willing to start that support is obviously up to you as individual parents but I don’t think burying your head in the sand on the premise that ‘it’ll all come out in the wash in the end’ is the best response to a very serious and important part of your child’s life.  Take that however you will 😉

I am for my children and want them to achieve the best that they can.  If Meg was only ever able to write her name and count to 10 then I would still be immensely proud of her for achieving her best.  If it emerges that she struggles academically or isn’t interested in History in quite the same way that I am, I will still be behind her 100%.

If that makes me a pushy parent then I will gladly stand at the head of the line.

This is my thought of the week but I would love to hear the opinions of anyone who has taken the time to read.  I’m not saying in any way that this is THE answer or correct opinion, I know this is a very complex issue with a variety of contributing factors but I love a lively debate so please let me know what you think!

*If you were kind enough to give this mother the benefit of the doubt that perhaps she knows her own child better than anyone else you will be pleased to know that said child ALWAYS comes out at the end of Dance Class, happy as Larry and desperate to show off all new dance moves.

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