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Are You Overparenting?

Are you an over-involved parent, or are you a “slow parent?”  Do you make yourself known to the teacher on the first day of school or do you think it is better to just watch and wait? How involved are you with your child’s homework? Are you pushing your child too hard or not enough? These days parents are criticized for being “helicopters” or “snow plows” on the one hand, and on the other criticized for being “unengaged” in school–sometimes in the very next breath. These questions all reflect that our eye is on the wrong ball.

The question isn’t: “Is your parenting slow or fast,” but “Whose foot is on the accelerator?”

Last week, a proud mother wanted to show me how beautifully her fifteen-month-old daughter was progressing. “Show Mr. Rick how you can walk,” she said. When the child refused, the mother said, “She doesn’t do it when we want her, too.” That’s right, I thought, and that is something for you to be proud of and nurture. She is on a mission, and it comes from within, but pleasing you is not it.

There is a natural tendency for parents to want to have their children meet or exceed the benchmarks of “normal” whether it is walking, talking, reading or learning algebra. This is often taken too far. In many of our schools it is taken for granted that more, faster, sooner is better. Those who are “below average” are examined for some sort of dysfunction.

As a parent, grandparent and long-time school principal I am happy that many parents are feeling the need to stop pushing their children and are attracted to movements like “slow parenting.” But we are still asking: How slow should we go? How hard should we push? Those aren’t the right questions. What’s this “we?” It’s not about us; it’s about them. Carl Honore‘s titles distract us from the real issue. His son has it right: “Why do grownups have to take over everything?”

Children naturally to want learn? Schoolwork is play for them. Ask most kindergartners what they looking forward to in first grade and they will say: “Homework.” We take their love of homework away from them by owning it. It’s their homework.

Our children’s success is going to be a function of their comfort with and self-discipline in pursuing goals, not how fast or slow they move through the curriculum. Overparenting is forgetting who the chief decision maker is

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11 Responses to “Are You Overparenting?”

  1. AkemiK April 15, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    I hope that student will continue to not give up in questioning. To test the “what ifs” in an equation, theory, and life. It’s possible that he could be the next “Einstein”. Many specialists and nowadays educators (and parents) do reminisce about “back in my days, we were expected to not question. Just listen and do.”
    I totally agree with you with the idea of if someone is accelerating, there has to be an extra “avenue” to accomodate the speed. right? If not, how are these young minds gonna feel excited to look at situations or learn things in a different light?
    When my son was 2 or so, I would want for him to perform all his lovable passions he’d do with me. And yes, there were moments l was like the mother in your article. And I remembered that it’s okay.
    Reading this article, I’ve learned that “slow” parenting is not a bad thing. It’s quite refreshing to just slow down and put massive pressure on these souls.

  2. AkemiK April 15, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    SORRY! the last line I meant NOT putting massive pressure on these souls.

  3. Rick April 15, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    Did you mean the last sentence?

  4. Rick April 15, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    Ah, I thought so. But the main point is that most of the time you can trust their inner drive–their genius, their character, their calling–to lead them to challenges and that often these challenges are greater than we would have chosen for them. Anyway, we have to support their decision making. It’s not harder or easier that prepares them for life, but a high incidence of decision making.

  5. Miranda April 15, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    You make a good point in this one. And I like the picture.

  6. Dawn Riccardi Morris April 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    I wholeheartedly agree that teachers should encourage questions, and not squash a child’s desire to learn just because she or he wants to take a lesson to the next level. Even if there are time constraints, there’s no reason a teacher cannot follow up on a question at another time.

    Have you read The Global Achievement Gap, by Tony Wagner? He makes a strong case for the art of questioning in our educational system. It’s something that’s missing, even in our so-called “best” schools.

    Our school leaders often look for the quick fixes and the next “best thing” when it comes to school improvement. If they want to really change things, they too need to ask all the right questions first!

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post.

  7. Rick April 18, 2010 at 4:07 pm #

    Sounds like you would like “Genius, Ability and Raising Smart People” (below). For most schools and teachers, schooling is still about doing things TO kids. We have to turn it around so that kids own their own learning.

  8. todd April 29, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    Well I do agree. But I have a follow up question. My son (8) loves to read. If we left him alone with a stack of books all day, that would be heaven for him. So his foot is all the way down on the accelerator on that and I’m not sure it’s 100% good for him. What to do?

  9. Rick April 30, 2010 at 6:49 am #

    The only way that I can see that this would be bad for him is if he were chained to the location. …Or it there were nobody nearby–all day long. He would probably have other interests in the course of the day–like food for starters.

  10. Mark May 5, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

    Thanks for the article. My oldest child is just about to finish her second year of pre-k so I do not speak from much experience. But I will say that one of the most remarkable qualities I have found in a teacher is the ability to teach to all levels. It appears to be easier to teach to the “norm” and stick to the curriculum.
    But what about the kids that need extra attention at polar ends of the spectrum?
    That takes a special set of skills.
    But in my humble opinion, something that makes a class much more interesting for all.
    Thanks.

  11. Rick May 5, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    Teachers need to teach kids not cover a curriculum. A great teacher I know (Susan Porter) used to say at the beginning of the year that she had 150% of a curriculum. She couldn’t say which 100% would get taught until she had worked with the students and seen what they could do. WIth her there was no spectrum. The curriculum was so multi-faceted and complex that everyone could find the right challenges in it. Great teachers don’t cover a curriculum, they inspire, engage and challenge students to discover abilities they never knew they had. The standard approach to schooling constricts students rather than opening up new challenges for them.

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