On Thursday, April 19, BIlingual Buds welcomed Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the recently published parenting guide, Smart Parenting for Smart Kids.
Dr. Kennedy-Moore began the evening with an important message about the downside of potential. All children face challenges growing up, but for bright children, heightened concerns about achievement can complicate "normal" development. "The greatest anxiety about performance often surrounds children who are the most capable," noted Dr. Kennedy-Moore. Why? We often forget that potential is not an endpoint, but instead the capacity to grow and learn.
"It is easy for kids to get caught up in the need to be impressive," she noted. Children with advanced skills are used to doing things well, and begin to believe that perfection is attainable, and expected. There is an unhealthy focus on what's wrong, in the face of what's right. "Don't correct your child's homework," Dr. Kennedy-Moore emphasized. "It sends the message that mistakes are intolerable, and that your child's work just isn't good enough."
Parents feel pressure for perfection as well, afraid to come up short in the development of their child. "Is my child going to be OK?" Dr. Kennedy-Moore outlined some common parenting responses to this perennial parent question:
- *Push Parenting (e.g., the TIger Mom approach); performance and achievement is everything
- *Over Protection (e.g., helicopter parenting); a parent is always right there to help, but prevents a child from learning their own coping skills
- *Pushing and Protecting Model (a muddled combination of both)
She noted that these responses often overestimate parental control, while underestimating children's capacity to grow and learn. At its extreme is a message that in reality has little to do with the child: "You need to achieve in order to prove that I'm a good parent."
So how does a parent create a safe middle ground to nurture their child's true potential?
- *Focus on the real child in front of you, instead of the imaginary future ideal.
- *Perfectionism can be destructive. Teach your child that learning is a many-step process that warrants mistakes and corrections.
- *When children are emotionally flooded, they can't think straight. Help your child "down-shift" with some neutral responses, like: "It sounds like you're feeling frustrated about your mistake." "It sounds like you didn't do as well as you had hoped."
- *Strike a balance between treasuring who your children really are, and helping them grow in their own way.
The takeaway? The most important qualities aren't necessarily impressive. "Our job as parents is to equip our kids for their journey, and to have faith they'll find their way," concluded Dr. Kennedy-Moore. "The world will tell them that their performance matters--which is why kids need us, their parents, to tell them they're much more than the sum of their accomplishments."
Bilingual Buds' Early Childhood Speaker series is free and open to the public. The next event will take place this fall 2012.
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Princeton, NJ, where she works with children, adults and families. She is the author or co-author of four books about feelings and relationships, and she has been quoted in dozens of magazines and newspapers. For more information, visit http://www.eileenkennedymoore.com