Pushy Parents

Written by Dr Sidney Langston   

Danielle is a bright, active eight year old whose parents have her involved in so many activities that she has no time to play or be with her friends. Since age two she has taken dancing and gymnastic lessons, and she started piano lessons in first grade. She is in Brownies and AWANA and attends all regular church services with her parents. In addition she plays T-ball and is on the swim team. Danielle is growing increasingly frustrated and becoming hard to manage. Obviously, such a schedule would overwhelm even the brightest and most gifted eight year old.

Danielle is being “over pushed” by her parents. They are not encouraging her to simply do her best and make the most of her talents, but rather to feel, think and behave as a miniature adult. If this pattern continues, it could cause great pain and emotional suffering for the family. What matters to a child Danielle’s age is having fun, learning about the world at her own pace and, most of all, feeling loved.   

Usually such situations arise because parents are living vicariously through their children. Danielle’s mother and father are confusing what is important to them with what is important to Danielle. Such a confusion of needs generally arises when adults are insecure and anxious about their roles as parents.

There are numerous reasons for a rise in this type of anxiety. Many parents struggle to combine effective parenting with career commitments. Also a large number of today’s parents are either single or members of a blended family which adds a set of issues all its own. Enormous social, technological and environmental changes make the future look uncertain and unpredictable. Amid such uncertainty, pushing children to compete and achieve not only bolsters parental egos but seems to be the most practical way to help young people succeed in a rapidly changing society.

According to Daniel Elkind, a child psychologist at Tufts University, not all pushing is over-pushing. Recent research suggests that infants and toddlers may indeed be more competent than we once thought. Preschool children are avid learners, ready to soak up new information. Certainly no roadblocks should be put in the way of the roughly 1 in 100 youngsters who want to read before kindergarten. Nor is it wrong to encourage a precocious talent for music, art or sports. But parents can only exercise the right kind of pushing if they separate their own needs from those of their children.

Developing good work habits, finishing assignments and household chores, and following through on commitments are important lessons to stress with a school-age child. As for teenagers, some may be more ready to make decisions about their lives than their parents are willing to admit, while others may require a gentle, but firm, nudge out of the nest.

Helpful Suggestions

In order for parents to sort this all out, they need to formulate reasonable expectations, tailored to the child’s personality, ability and maturity. This is the essence of good parenting. Here are a few suggestions which might be helpful:

  • Be aware of the issue and keep asking: Am I putting myself first? Damage results when parents’ needs dominate their children’s needs for a long time. Remember.Parents have legitimate needs too. The key is balance.
  • Look for compromise solutions, especially when dealing with pressure to conform. Children, if consulted, often come up with the best compromises.
  • Put the issue in a broader perspective. In deciding how much to push homework, chores, practicing, etc., ask yourself whether your standards are in keeping with your values and the demands in the outside world. In general, promote behavior that will enable children to function with integrity in the larger society.
  • Be more concerned with attitudes than skills. If parents aren’t careful, children may acquire negative attitudes about learning that will far outweigh any positive gain. A youngster who is pushed may learn a skill, but not have the desire to use it.
  • Keep your eye on your child. Discover and encourage your child’s bents and take time each day to catch up with what your child is doing. The dinner hour lends itself to this kind of talk and should be reserved as special and privileged. Turn the television off, and talk about the day’s issues. Take a pressure reading: too much? . . . too little? . . . or just right?

Elkind, David. (1981). The hurried child. Reading. Mass:  Addison-Wesley.


Copyright 1994, El Rophe Center, Inc.