It’s a sad truth that some of the world’s best minds are stifled at a young age simply because society has forced them into doing so. Parents are not to blame for this, per se, as for the most part they are doing what they’ve read or been told is right. However, some actions parents take in regard to raising their children unfortunately might be doing more harm than good.
1. Giving Extrinsic Rewards
Okay, it’s definitely easiest to promise an extra scoop of ice cream if your child completes his homework, or practices her piano for a half hour. But by doing so, you’re ingraining two detrimental notions within their growing minds: One, that they should only do work if there is a reward offered; and two, that what they’re doing is actually work. Yes, I understand homework is not the most fun thing in the world to do, but by doing it, and doing it right, it will make learning the next step that much easier. If a child associates playing an instrument with hard work, he won’t be free to get creative with it. Instead, reward a job well done with a more fun piece of music, or a math puzzle that relates to the night’s homework. Every task has some menial part to it, but the reward for completing tasks should relate specifically to the skills built while working through the menial parts.
In an effort to making their kids an expert at something, parents often sign their children up for way too many things. Karate, soccer, swimming lessons, and art classes? All this will do is make them a jack of all trades, and master of none. Too often, kids feel like they “have to go to baseball practice tonight,” instead of actually looking forward to it. How many of us, as adults, would want to be up and about until 9PM after a long day’s work, and still have to come home and do more work before bed? I know there are people that function that way, but the truth is they are probably cyborgs. The most successful minds in history have spoken out about the benefits of downtime. It’s when the mind is free from stress and having to follow a regiment that it is able to reflect on the day’s events, and prepare itself for the following day. With no downtime, children go through life never truly being prepared.
3. Limiting choices
On the other hand, giving a child too little to do will also stifle her creativity. I’m sure many parents have experienced this: You go out and buy an expensive toy, playset, etc. that comes in a huge box, and hours later find your kid playing with…the box. Of course, you’re not happy about it because you just spent $200 on cardboard. But to that child, it’s not a box; it’s a spaceship, a train, or a dollhouse. The lesson here is, children see the world differently than adults, and by forcing our narrow viewpoint upon them, we kill their imagination. I’ll let Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson explain this a little further.
4. Shadowing or hovering
As a kid, I remember absolutely hating when a teacher would circle the room and check over my shoulder while I was completing a task. I always felt like I had better be right, or else I’d be completely embarrassed and never want to show my face in class again. It also made me feel incredibly rigid, so I would make sure I was doing the work her way, and wouldn’t deviate from the set instructions given. Children need to feel free to go about things in their own way, and find their own solutions. If children are constantly just repeating instructions, there will never be any innovation in their thought process.
5. Making them fear failure
Simply put: everyone fears failure. But without failure, success wouldn’t feel as sweet as it does. Unfortunately, we ingrain in our children the idea that failure is a dead end road, with no turning back. This can’t be farther from the truth. In fact, failure is simply a bump in the road to success. You wouldn’t turn back to home if you hit a pothole, right? (I mean, unless you get a flat, but stay with me here). Often, finding the right way to go about solving a problem is all about finding the ways not to go about solving it, and changing your approach. Children need to understand that failure is inevitable, but is able to be conquered. The only way failure wins is if they stop trying altogether.
6. Rushing them
A notion that is sadly overlooked in today’s society is the idea that children are simply new to life. They truly do not have the experience adults have to understand concepts, and they lack the background knowledge we have that makes it easy for us to connect ideas and come to conclusions fairly quickly. Their brain is a muscle that takes time to form connections, and by rushing children through tasks we make it almost certain these connections will not be made. Let them accomplish goals at their own pace. It might take a little longer than expected, but the connections made will last a lifetime, and they will have a much easier go of it the next time they encounter a similar problem.
7. Making everything a competition
Okay, let me start out by saying I’m not all for the “everybody gets a trophy” thing. But placing the idea that they have to “beat” everyone else puts way too much pressure on children. You’ll notice that even the most famous sports stars aren’t simply obsessed with beating the other team; they’re focused on playing their best, and when they do, they end up winning the game. The only person a child should ever feel like he’s competing against is himself. He should approach every obstacle with the goal of being better at it than he was the day before. Not only will he continue to grow on a daily basis, but he will also be humble about his advances, instead of looking at “how much better” or “how much worse” he is at something than everyone else.
8. Not being creative yourself
There’s a saying in the adult world: “If it looks stupid, but works…it’s not stupid.” A lot of us are afraid of looking…well, looking like children, when it comes to finding solutions to a problem. By stifling our own creativity, we stifle our children’s. We should be the ones who find new ways of doing things, so our children know it’s okay to go off the beaten path once in a while. We should create drums out of empty paint cans and milk jugs instead of throwing them away; we should make our own wrapping paper or greeting cards instead of buying them. It sounds corny, and it is. But the truth is, that’s what our children need. They need to see that we’re not afraid to drop the act and get silly, that it’s normal to be abnormal. When we force ourselves to walk a straight line, our children will follow. When we choose to skip and zig-zag around it, they’ll be right behind us.
Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm7.staticflickr.com