Pushy mom reaing physics book to childThe issue of pushing children to excel is one that comes up all the time – especially when it involves gifted children. On the one hand, some people argue that parents need to push their children to do their best. Parents of gifted kids, on the other hand, are often told to stop pushing their kids, to let their kids be kids. So what exactly are parents supposed to do? Should they push their kids or not? But maybe we aren’t asking the right question. Perhaps we should start by asking what it means to “push” children.

Most everyone can agree that children should learn the value of hard work. It’s hard work that most often leads to success and self-satisfaction. Of course, other factors can contribute to success, including just plain luck, but luck alone won’t help anyone maintain long-term success. Children must also learn to persevere, which means that their parents may push them to keep going when things get tough. Giving up because something is hard isn’t a good strategy for success.

Not all children are going to excel at everything they do, but that doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t expect them to try their best. Is it pushing to expect the best from our child? Not the best in the world, necessarily, but the best that he can do. Is it wrong to expect our children to put forth their best effort?

If expecting that our children put forward their best effort in the work they do is pushing them, how is it wrong? Somehow the word “push” in this context has developed some negative connotations, and more likely than not, those negative connotations come from the notion that some parents push their children, not simply to do their best, but to be gifted.

The idea that parents can push a child to be gifted is based on a misunderstanding of giftedness. It is simply not possible to push a kid into being gifted. Parents can push their child to work hard and to excel, but no amount of pushing is going to turn a non-gifted child into a gifted one. The best way to understand this is to think of intelligence as a rubber band. Rubber bands come in all sizes. We can stretch all rubber bands, but no matter how much we stretch an average sized rubber band, it will not be as large as the largest rubber band, particularly if we also stretch the large rubber band. In other words, there is a genetic component to giftedness.

So parents can’t push their children into being gifted, but they can encourage them to do their best, to persevere when things get tough. What gifted children are capable of doing, however, may be more than what their non-gifted age-mates are capable of doing. Does that mean that parents of gifted children shouldn’t push their children to do what they are capable of doing? That they should stop pushing their children once they have accomplished what their age mates can do, even if they can do more? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of pushing?

Whether to push or not, then, isn’t really the question we should be asking. We can agree that we want to push our children to be the best they can be. It’s probably easier to understand this idea if we substitute the word “encourage” for “push.” We all certainly want to encourage our children to do their best, and it makes no difference if the child is gifted or not.

The question parents should be asked is not whether they should push – or encourage – their child to excel. The question should be why we want to push in the first place. The obvious answer is that we want our child to lead a happy and successful life. However, some parents may have other motivations. For example, many people believe that parents of gifted children push their kids so that they can have “bragging rights.” They think that these parents push their kids into “being” gifted so that they can tell everyone all about their “gifted” kid and all the great things she’s done. But again, parents of gifted children are often doing nothing more than many other parents do – pushing their kid to do his best.

It really doesn’t matter, though, if a parent has a gifted child or a non-gifted child. Parents of non-gifted kids can also push their kids to excel in order to get some bragging rights. After all, a child doesn’t have to be gifted to get A’s or end up with honors. The difference is in whether the pushing is child-centered or parent-centered. If a parent is pushing a child to excel in order to get that bumper sticker that says, “My child is an honor student,” the pushing is parent-centered. If, however, a parent sees that her child isn’t putting forth much effort in his work and pushes him to work harder, the pushing is more child-centered. It is based, not on what the parent wants, but on what the child needs.

If you ever worry about being a pushy parent, just ask yourself if your pushing comes from what you believe your child needs or from what you want for yourself. If you are ever accused of being a pushy parent, ask the person making the accusation what pushing means. You can probably have an interesting conversation of its meaning and its usefulness.

Carol BainbridgeFor ParentsRants and ResponsesAdvice for Parents,Parenting
The issue of pushing children to excel is one that comes up all the time - especially when it involves gifted children. On the one hand, some people argue that parents need to push their children to do their best. Parents of gifted kids, on the other hand, are...