Should we push our kids?

29 August, 2011

Should we push our kids?

“If you can help them to develop a love of learning, they won’t need anyone to drive them.”

In 1902 Albert Einstein was a rather nondescript clerk in a rather nondescript office of the Swiss Government. Just a few years later he revolutionised physics with his Theory of General Relativity. Today he is regarded as one of the truly towering intellects of human history.

It has been suggested that, had Albert’s parents been British, they would have been far happier to see their son established as a moderately successful civil servant than see him wasting his time coming up with weird and wonderful theories that no one could ever prove anyway.

That may be unfair on British parents but the joke does hint at one truism – that we all have the desire to see our children placed firmly on the initial steps of a safe, respectable and professional career.

The first stage towards that goal is seeing them successfully through school and the necessary exam results to take them onwards. Many of us are prepared to push our kids to achieve those golden grades – and push hard. But can you drive your child to academic success and should you even try?

Bethany Mellet, a mother of three boys all now in their twenties, currently works as a classroom assistant. She believes that while schools are there to provide the engine of education, it’s the parents who are best placed to provide the fine tuning of direction.

She said: “Of course I wanted my sons to do well but I always took the view that they were better nurtured than pushed. ‘Push’ said to me that they had no say in the matter while ‘nurture’ required their willing involvement.

“I felt very strongly that I could best serve their school years by watching closely as their individual interests and abilities began to appear and then helping the boys to explore them.”

Children can only show interest or aptitude for things of which they are aware, Bethany stressed, so a parent’s role is also to facilitate – to make as much as possible available to their children.

“It’s well known that different children develop at different rates and, just as there can be physical growth spurts, there can be academic and intellectual growth spurts, too,” Bethany said. “Today, experts agree that whist there is a place for extra tuition, driving children remorselessly forward will not necessarily have the desired effect and, in some cases, it can actually be counter-productive.

“For instance, if a child seems to have an interest and an aptitude for music, it’s probably better that the parents don’t spend £2,000 on a custom-built violin and force the child into daily lessons and long sessions of practice.

“But they might just see whether there are any youth choirs or orchestras in their area where the child could go along – just to see what goes on in such places.”

As a mum and a classroom professional, Bethany’s view is simple: “Education needs to be nurtured and not driven. You have to do your best to reveal the world to your kids – and then you have to be prepared to go with them on the journey you’ve shown them.

“If you can help them to develop a love of learning, they won’t need anyone to drive them.”