10 Rules For Pushy Parents

April 4, 2010
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Swimming clubs in the US and UK have taken to imposing rules on pushy parents that forbid them to put excessive pressure on their children to win.

Their 10 commandments for parents—rules that could easily be applied to any other sport, activity or academic pursuit—go like this:

•    Thou shalt not impose thy ambitions on thy child.
•    Thou shalt be supportive no matter what.
•    Thou shalt not coach thy child.
•    Thou shalt only have positive things to say at a swimming meet.
•    Thou shalt acknowledge thy child’s fears.
•    Thou shalt not criticise the officials.
•    Honor thy child’s coach.
•    Thou shalt be loyal and supportive of thy team.
•    Thy child shalt have goals besides winning.
•    Thou shalt not expect thy child to become an Olympian.

In urban environments where people are constantly jostling for material reward, pushy parenting has developed to the degree that those who can see the signs, feel compelled to warn those who can’t.

While researching this article, I stumbled on a 2003 news piece about how, in an effort to ensure victory, a French father slipped anti-depressants into the water bottle of his son’s tennis opponent. The drugged opponent died when he lost control of his car after leaving the game and the father was arrested.

This story may be an extreme one but it gives us food for thought. Are we aware, on a daily basis, the points at which being ‘supportive’ spills over into being ‘pushy’ and how far are we willing to go?

Pushy parenting is known to be responsible for children dropping out of sport, rather than be embarrassed by their parents’ behaviour at the sidelines week after week.

Am I a pushy parent? Are you a pushy parent?

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Every Tuesday, while waiting for her four year old at dance class, my friend Emma finds herself in the company of a group of mothers whose conversation invariably veers towards the competitive.

“What tuition class does your child attend? Which Math tuition teacher is the best?”

“Do your children learn the violin? What grade are they?”

“How did your son do in the UPSR? Are you considering international school?”

A mother once confided in me that her daughter had atrocious penmanship. The child was four at the time, too young, probably, to even know what ‘penmanship’ meant. But there the child was, huddled over a table filling her exercise book with letters because her mother feared that she would be left behind if she did not write beautifully.

Friends in Singapore and Hong Kong talk about how parents there get their wires all tangled up over kindergarten admissions.

Kids in Hong Kong are, apparently, hauled from activity to activity even before they are out of diapers, just so they will have enviable resumes by the time they apply to kindergarten. Good kindies lead to good primary schools, which paves the way for entry into good secondary schools and so on. And the competition is stiff.

But research has shown that overloading children with structured activities may undermine their self-confidence, imagination and independence. On the other hand, free unstructured play help develop children’s confidence.

While it is understandable that all parents want the best for their children, at what point are we, as parents, going too far? Do we, in fact, know what is best for our children and should we insist that they abide by our decisions regardless of how they feel about it?

We need to be aware about whether or not the decisions we make for our children are the result of us living our lives vicariously through them, cajoling or even bullying them into fulfilling our unfulfilled dreams.

I remember feeling rage, mixed with desperation, when my six-year old son announced that he no longer wanted to attend Yamaha JMC classes after about five lessons.

While I knew in my head that the teacher was not good for him because she had an intimidating personality, I was unable in my heart to let go of my dream (not his!), which was for him to have the opportunities that I had been denied as a child.

Children are perfect exactly as they are at every stage of their development.

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The three year old is a perfect three year old with a toddler’s worldview, behavior, selfishness, openness and trust. As Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of Magical Child, says, “If a child is given all the nurturing to be here as a three year old, they’ll be the perfect five year old later on, and so on.”

It follows, then, that the 13 year old is a perfect 13 year old with a teenager’s angst, questions about life and the universe, doubts and uncertainties about his own abilities as well as everything else that is part of being a teen.

Children are not incomplete adults who need to pulled and punched and kneaded to resemble the people we think they should be – rather, they are already whole and complete and all that is left for us to do is to love them unconditionally and facilitate, rather than control, their growth.

Children who act out control and power issues, such as bullying their friends or siblings, venting their anger on toys, or shrinking in the presence of authority figures, may be telling us that they are being pushed too much.

As parents, we need to read the signs and listen to what our children are not able to verbalise. And we can all pick up a pointer or two from the swimming coaches in the US and UK.


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