Many of us were raised by parents who felt that children should be seen and not heard. They may have believed that if we were encouraged to stand in the spotlight, the attention would go to our heads. Nowadays, parents push their children not just to be their personal best but to outshine everyone else and to rise to the top. This is understandable in light of strong competition in the university system as well as in the workplace. In other words, if you don’t get the highest marks in your class or if you’re not a leader, you may get left behind. This belief is not unfounded. However, in the process of raising children to be fierce leaders and better than the rest, parents may unintentionally be neglecting to teach other important values such as empathy, consideration for others and teamwork.
The trick to raising self-confident and motivated children is to understand how and where to draw the line between boosting their self-esteem and causing them to overestimate their abilities, or to have an over-the-top need for affirmation or admiration.
Consider the following:
When your child comes home with an A on a test, and you respond with something like, ‘I’m not surprised. You’ve always been more intelligent than your friends. You’re top of the class I’m sure.’
Unfortunately, a response such as this sends a message to your child that he or she is better than everyone else. Children who internalize this may become snobby or aloof. This attitude will ultimately not help them in the real world where it is better to appreciate others’ strengths and weaknesses and to show humility.
Instead, focus on their accomplishment. Say something like, ‘Wow, your hard work really paid off’ or ‘you must be proud of yourself.’
After watching your child perform on stage or on the field, you say something like, ‘What would your team do without you? You make them look good!’
This response would unfortunately encourage your child to believe that others cannot function without them around. This does not promote teamwork or humility and gives the child an inflated sense of self. Although you may believe that your child is better than the rest, not everyone will.
Instead of focusing on their performance as being better than others, it may be wiser to say something like: ‘You were all so in sync with one another. It was a pleasure to watch. What great teamwork!’
Also, rather than praising everything your child does or waiting for a positive ending to comment, encourage them during the process. If you notice that their writing skills, for example, have improved, share what you are seeing along the way, as in ‘I can see how hard you’re working at forming your letters.’
In this way, you are focusing on process rather than end result. If you constantly praise your child’s work, he or she may become a praise junkie and constantly look for affirmation and validation from others. This may set tehm up for disappointment and frustration in the real world when they don’t get showered with all the validation and approval they’ve gotten from you.
Sex. It’s a topic I’ve become increasingly comfortable bantering about—especially since the writing and release of my latest book on the topic of why married couples don’t have sex. As a result, I have spent countless hours discussing this subject with the media as well as others. All this at a time when the province in which I live has produced a document detailing their new curriculum for Health and Physical Education for students in grades 1 to 8, within which they discuss changes to sex education.
The new changes, set to take place in September, 2015, have stirred a big pot of controversy among critics who feel strongly about children being exposed to certain topics at too young an age or hearing things from teachers that go against their religious beliefs or moral code.
The way I see it, there’s a power struggle as to where sex education, and in what form, should begin. In the home? At school? The new document does acknowledge that ‘parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethnocultural, spiritual, and personal beliefs and traditions and they are their children’s first role models’. So, we may be the first but does that mean we have to be the only?
I believe that we need to work with and trust the people who we have given the responsibility of helping to educate our children. We have to assume that they haven’t just come up with a new curriculum overnight or that they have pulled ideas out of a hat. We can safely believe that they have done research and consulted with many respected educators about the development of children and what they are safely able to absorb at any given age, and how to share that information with them.
For some children, this may be the only sex education they get. I know many parents who have a very difficult time broaching the topic of sex and sexuality. They blush and stutter at the thought of even doing so. Some may even have been raised to believe that sex is dirty and bad and may therefore have a difficult time looking beyond what’s ingrained in their minds as they guide their children through their formative years. So, instead of feeling afraid of passing on shame and embarrassment, they may actually welcome having their child’s teacher initiate a discussion that they can then expand upon or even enjoy the opportunity of having their child share with them what he or she has learnt.
For those who may have concerns about their children being exposed to material that will encourage them to experiment before they are ready, I urge you to open your eyes to what your children are already being exposed to on social media and television. I see and hear about too many children who are sending crude messages to friends and strangers at the age of 10 or 11, and of children who are watching pornographic images on YouTube before they are even teenagers. So I am not concerned that children will be negatively influenced by what at they are being shown or taught by people who are trained to understand children and their development.
After looking over the 244 page document, the Ministry is quite clear that they recognize ‘some topics need to be approached with additional sensitivity, care and awareness because of their connection to family values, religious beliefs or other social or cultural norms’. I’ve even heard that students may have the option to opt out of classes in which specific topics are being addressed.
The ideal situation is for parents and educators to work together. Knowing in advance what the teacher is going to teach your children and then working alongside him or her can only benefit your children and prepare them for the realities of the 21st century. Religious and cultural beliefs aside, human beings are all the same when it comes to basic fundamental needs and wants. By recognizing and accepting this, we can work together at raising a generation of people who are comfortable in their own skin and less vulnerable as a result of being more informed.
Images from Shutterstock.