Have high hopes for your children, but not unrealistic goals
A letter to Professor Tanya Byron in The Times this week was from the mother of a Year 8 aged daughter.
The girl didn’t put maximum effort into revising for school examinations and this frustrated her mother so much that family life was stressed to a serious level. She asked Professor Byron why it was that as a not normally angry person did she handle this issue so poorly. She confessed to regretting not working harder at school and whilst her daughter achieved respectable results her mother felt that this was history repeating itself.
I agreed with much of Professor Byron’s response which I thought worth sharing. First of all she recognised that the mother’s actions were a result of her being a caring parent. However, being too pushy may lead to children having deep rooted anxiety problems and depression. In an education system that has tests and targets it is easy for children to start to believe they are not good enough. Professor Byron references her experience over thirty years and I have also seen mental health in children over a similar period decline.
Research from the University of Reading shows that better educational performance is seen in pupils whose parents have high hopes for their children. However, parents who have unrealistic goals may experience under performance in their children and anxiety. Positive encouragement is good but being over pushy has a negative impact.
Professor Byron ends up encouraging the mother to let her daughter learn from her mistakes and perhaps fail. I would add that in my almost thirty years as a parent I have learned “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. As a parent I provided a suitable place for study and rest breaks with snacks and treats but I couldn’t take the examination or revise for my children. Despite our parental anxiety children do manage to find their way through if we give them the resilience to rise to the challenges they will face and encourage without unrealistic expectations.