Lets Not Hurry Children Through Childhood
Have you ever experienced one of those days when you wanted to return to the carefree days of childhood when your biggest worry was how you could con your parents into staying up a little longer at night. Have you ever thought that you would like to be a child once more when the biggest decision for the day was choosing which topping put on your ice cream?
While this worry-free existence maybe idealised, there is little doubt that most parents want to capture this carefree, happy feeling for their children.
But many children feel the same stress that adults feel. In a culture that values success they can easily be pressured to grow up to quickly. It appears that the pressure for children to perform is perhaps strongest in the United States.
American author Dr. Gail Gross writes, "Many parents seek to create "super kids," pressuring their children into becoming premature adults and making them overly competitive. Ironically, in their eagerness to create an academic prodigy, overzealous parents often create an underachiever."
My feeling is that many parents in Australia are unwittingly going down the American parental track of raising kids to develop academically at a quicker rate - i. e. to be smarter and more competent but at a younger age.
Dr. David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child, advises parents to let children be children. His research suggests that students are more likely to have academic success if they were not hurried through their early childhood by parents who overestimate their child's competence and overexpose them to academic experience.
Ironically, when parents release the pressure and focus on developing children's general well being they perform better in the long run. The London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance followed the fortunes of all babies born in the first week of April 1970 in Britain. There was clear evidence that children with a higher self-esteem at the age of 10 got as much kick to their earning power as those with higher maths, reading and other academic abilities. They had less chance of being unemployed later in life and if they were, they would soon be back in the workforce.
To avoid hurrying children through childhood it helps to honour their natural instincts to play and avoid continually turning their play into work or even some type of learning experience. Play fosters creativity and reduces stress. Play is a life skill that many adults have forgotten about.
It helps for children to have plenty of free time when they can just hang around and basically do nothing. It is strange but in our increasingly achievement oriented culture the notion of free time is equated with laziness or lack of ambition. Adults and children can benefit from some free time when nothing productive is achieved whatsoever.
It also helps to remember that children may act grown up but they don't often feel grown up. While it maybe possible to accelerate their academic development it is impossible to accelerate their emotional maturation.
A post World War 2 British mental health inquiry concluded that the major contributor to an adult's general wellbeing and happiness was the existence of a happy childhood. By ensuring that children have a long, happy childhood we provide a solid foundation for happy, well-adjusted adulthood.
Childhood is an important stage of life that needs to be protected and valued by adults. It is a stage of life worth preserving for as long as we can, not something to be rushed through.
Michael Grose is Australia's leading parenting educator. He is the author of six books and gives over 100 presentations a year and appears regularly on television, radio and in print.