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The Anxious Parent
September 11, 2020
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Whose Dream is it Anyway?

Whose Dream is it Anyway?

“Children are exquisite at reading the parent’s agendas and the parent’s feelings.” This observation by Margret Nickels, Ph.D., the director at Center for Children and Families at Erikson Institute, should be copied, printed, and mounted over the fireplace in every parent’s home. 

As she so sharply conveys, none of us will win an Oscar any time soon for our ability to hide our real motives from our kids. And since the stakes are impossibly high when it comes to raising children, we parents have to get our agendas in order. 

“Children are in many ways extensions of our egos, and we want them to be better at things we were not so good at,” explains Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., a professor at the university of Delaware and author of “A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool.” It’s no wonder then that parents sometimes push their children well beyond acceptable limits when it comes to succeeding. They vicariously want to redo their own experiences or, at the very least, recapture their youth. 

But just because this desire is natural doesn’t mean the consequences are, too.

“Having a child who has different interests than you do must be respected,” Golinkoff says, and that applies in more ways than one. Siblings almost always have individual interests, so don’t expect them to all love ballet or football. And don’t plan on their talents matching up with those of classmates, cousins, or that adorable kids you saw on “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Comparison is verboten when it comes to cultivating your child’s interests. Your job, Nickels says, is not to dictate your child’s skills sets and talents, but to discover them.

As with most things it’s easy to spot the “crazy” mother from afar; less easy to recognize when it’s actually you. Lucky for us, our children are excellent barometers for that sort of thing. Refusing to go to lessons, regular fights or tantrums centering on an activity, coming up with excuses not to go to practice or developing stomachaches, headaches, and other physical symptoms of anxiety are all red flags that a child has too much on their plate. If this becomes your regular experience before, say, swim lessons, it’s time to reconsider who those lessons are really for. Support, Nickels says, should be an offer and not a mandate.

Guiding and encouraging your children – and sometimes insisting on regular practice – are part of the territory of good parenting. But keep the extracurricular activities in check, both in terms of importance and time dedicated to them.

“While kids need to be encouraged perhaps to do their homework or their chores,” Golinkoff says, “too many extracurriculars can keep kids from interacting with other kids, and they need that, too.”

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