What are we teaching our children when we focus on their achievements rather than their kindness?
When I ask parents to visualize their children as adults, I ask them to describe the qualities that they want their children to have. Almost all of them say that they want their children to be kind, loyal, compassionate, hard working and happy. I've never once heard a parent say that they want their adult children to be good at math or fabulous baseball players. Yet, when I observe parents with their children they are focused on the latter skills versus the former.
A focus on grades, athletic abilities, ACT scores, clean rooms and social lives leads children to believe that these are their most important characteristics. Yet wise parents understand that a focus on compassion, kindness, loyalty and joy lead to happier children and children who ultimately succeed in more areas of life. Parents mean well when they focus on academics yet their behaviors speak volumes to their children. An intense focus on performance lends itself to children feeling stressed and anxious and ironically enough often leads to decreased grades and athletic ability. Parents then increase the pressure and the kids do even worse and it all leads to a rather miserable doom loop in which no one in the family is happy. Is this really how you want to spend the limited time you have with your children?
Maybe we are going about this parenting thing in all the wrong ways. If we want our children to succeed financially, academically and emotionally, we need to focus on core values and skills that ultimately lead to greater success. Core values are not math skills but rather interpersonal skills such as good listening, empathy, perseverance and internal motivation. When we pay our children for good grades we probably aren't focusing on core life values and thus we train them to perform in the moment but not to have the skills they will need when the external motivators are gone.
Do you give your child as much attention for their kindness as you do for their good science grade? Do you notice when your children are being good friends, standing up to bullies or staying up late to help a friend who is broken-hearted? Or do you only focus on how they performed at their last piano concert or soccer game? Do you obsess over their messy room and ignore that they helped their sibling with homework? Do you praise your child when they take care of themselves emotionally and physically or do you only notice when they have that extra piece of candy or slightly less motivated athletic performance? If so, you are giving them all of the wrong lessons about life.
Children today are highly anxious, stressed out, and worried about their grades, test scores, college and their future careers. In doing so, they are missing out on the joys of childhood that are so few and fleeting. Many parents are contributing to this anxiety by being overly focused on their children's future instead of their children in the moment. Parents tell me that they want their kids to be well versed in art, literature, science, as well as involved in an array of activities and clubs. They want them to have straight As and to be members of the National Honor Society, yet to also have a diverse and active social life. No wonder children are anxious!
Why must they accomplish all of these things before they even finish puberty? Why must we force them to be little adults instead of little kids? Maybe some of the anxiety comes from our own fears as parents. What if we don't push, push, push? Will our children end up being bag people begging for money? What do we really fear? That our children won't be more successful than us? And if that's the case, maybe the focus needs to be on finding our own happiness instead of pushing our kids to make us happy and fulfilled.
Wise parents know that a content, calm child will do better in school, have more fun participating in activities, sleep better, eat better and get along with their peers in a calmer manner than anxious children might. By focusing on core values and characteristics such as compassion, empathy, kindness, self-care and managing stress, parents will help their children incorporate skills that will carry them through life not just through today's math test. Wise parents also know that the time they have with their children is limited and best spent enjoying each other's company vs. their children's accomplishments.
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach at smartwomeninspiredlives.com. She has 3 children aged 21, 16 and 14. You can reach her at Lisa@smartwomeninspiredlives.com. Join Lisa for her free teleclass "Ditch the Stress and Find Happiness'. Sign up here.