'It's not the winning, it's the taking part' is easier said than done sometimes, and that's as true for parents as much as it is for children.
Most parents naturally want their child to succeed, and it's normal to want to do all you can to help them to do so. But it's a fine line between encouragement and interference: at what point does your encouragement make you a pushy parent?
Don't get carried away
Anne, a dance teacher and mum of a swimming-pro son, often notices parents at the galas pushing the boundaries of healthy encouragement. "The things they shout are just plain embarrassing – you just cringe for their children, who feel their efforts aren’t good enough." Some children can’t bear their parents supporting them at sports competitions whatsoever, with some even keeping the event a secret until it's over.
If this is the case, you can’t challenge their choice or go behind their back. Anne continues: "The one time I did this my son didn’t let me watch another of his galas for months." Let that be a lesson to you!
Don't compete with other parents
A sure sign of pushy parenting is when the child’s needs come second to their parents. Take Paula, 48, mum of 18-year-old Francesca. When her daughter’s A-level results were lower than a close friend’s, she embarrassed both by comparing them, making her daughter feel inferior. It’s this kind of behaviour that defines the pushy parents from the encouraging ones. The lesson to be learnt here is to show your children you’re proud of them whatever they do.
If you find you are concerned that your child’s achievements may affect your reputation or reflect badly on you, then your priorities are in the wrong place.
Don't try to bribe them
It isn’t uncommon for parents to offer their children rewards for achieving certain goals. Mum of three teenage girls Julie, 46, shared that she would give her daughters monetary incentives to achieve A grades at secondary school. While some may see this as healthy encouragement, others view it as plain bribery.
The competition between parents to offer their child the biggest prize is also common, with Julie adding that her daughters said they would try harder if they knew they would be better rewarded than their peers. This is incentivising gone wrong, as the children are losing focus of what matters.
Do let them set their own targets
Letting your children set their own goals, timescales and rewards could be your way to avoid pushy-parent-syndrome. Rather than dictating to them, compromise and discover your child’s needs. Everyone learns differently and we are all motivated by different things, so find what suits your child to optimise their motivation without exerting pressure.
Let them realise their own mistakes instead of criticising them. For example, if it’s time management issues they lack then they need to face the consequences and learn themselves, even if that includes a telling off from their teacher.
Finally, avoid hovering close by while they study or rehearse as this gives them opportunity to doubt themselves – give them independence by letting them come to you instead.
Don't force them into the limelight
If your child shows promise of being an all-singing, all-dancing star then it’s important as a parent to recognise their talents without forcing them into the limelight. Harvesting a talent can be worth its weight in gold in terms of your child’s confidence, and perhaps financially one day. But often the harder you push their talents, the further you push them away.
Flute teacher Julia warns that the effects of pushy parenting can be detrimental to a child’s creative ability; ‘I can always tell when a child is under parental pressure. Their confidence falters and they lack communication with me, the tutor.’ She advises that if the child is content to enjoy a hobby without competition or performances then leave it that way.
Do give them space
It can be tempting to march your sixteen year old down the high street to hand out CVs as soon as their National Insurance lands on the doormat, but your first job can be a daunting prospect and it isn’t something a teenager will do willingly if they’re under too much parental pressure.
Michelle, mother of three, recounts the impact on her daughter’s confidence when she tried to intercept her job application which she didn’t feel was adequate; ‘I did it out of love, but it wasn’t worth the embarrassment I subsequently caused my daughter, whose trust for me diminished.’ The greatest support you can provide in this circumstance is offering to help them write their CV and suggest taking them shopping for an interview outfit.
Shadowing them as they dish out CVs, or even handing them out without their consent, is not going to win their trust, so give them the freedom to make their own mistakes.