Good parents want the best for their children. My guess is that if you are here, you are one of those parents who really cares. You were drawn in by the question, “Are You Unintentionally Stunting Your Child’s Development?” Most of you probably thought, “I hope not. I better make sure.” Welcome to the club of parents who really want to do well for their child. The truth is you might have extremely good intentions and yet still be doing something that is getting in the way of their growth.
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Are You Unintentionally Stunting Your Child’s Development?
If you want the best for you child, I want to encourage you to set age-appropriate, realistic expectations for you child. As a former teacher (really, when you are a mom can you even have the title of “former teacher?”) I learned about the importance of setting up children for success by giving them an appropriate level of challenge.
One of my favorite parenting books that I have read is called “Brain Rules for Babies,” by John Medina. It provides the scientific framework for why and how we can best help our children thrive. Medina is a leading expert in brain development. He was also one of my husband’s mentors while in college.
Medina found that it is not good to be a “hyper parent,” subjecting your kids to an extreme pressure to achieve. He says that “extreme expectations stunt higher-level thinking because performing becomes, at the young ages, a way to appease parents and coerces the brain to resort to lower-level thinking strategies.” (pg. 155) You see this in the parents who are pushing their young kids to memorize facts, math equations or other “pony tricks” at young ages. The child doesn’t try and understand concepts, and developing higher level processing techniques is stunted.
High pressure also hinders curiosity. Kids start to care more about getting the right answers than about asking questions and exploring. Imagine what this does to creative thinking. Curiosity comes naturally to kids, but if there is pressure to perform, this important life skill is pushed back in development.
Another danger of pushing kids to perform beyond their capability is the anger and disappointment kids sense in their parents become toxic to their brain development. “It creates a psychological state called learned helplessness, which can physically damage a child’s brain” (pg. 156). I read about this more in the book called “Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings.” The pressure kids can have – whether self imposed or imposed by often well-meaning adults is damaging. If kids feel failure for not living up to parents expectations it can create depression or explosive emotions. The child can also feel like they will never live up to expectations and start to rebel and not try.
What should you do?
Praise your children’s efforts. Create an environment to help them learn at their own pace. Challenge them in fun and exciting ways, but love them deeply in the process with a lot of encouragement. If you want the next genius, less pressure may be the key.