Many parents today are overly invested in their children’s academic performance. They focus on school readiness and push their children into academic pursuits at younger and younger ages. It is not unusual to find academic preschools for three year olds. There are even whole catalogs devoted to games, DVD’s and flash cards to give one’s child the competitive edge over his peers before formal schooling even starts. As a result, many children seem advanced when they enter school when, in fact, they are not. This phenomenon is often referred to as “hothousing.” Just as you can grow a tomato in the middle of winter given the right forced conditions, children can be trained to such an extent that they appear gifted at young ages. Many parents of such children take great pride in their offspring’s accomplishments and do not hesitate to share it with those around them. This overemphasis on early academic achievement creates problems for the child, their parents and their teachers. Three of these problems are listed below.
1. The child feels valued for what he knows rather than for who he is . Parents who draw attention to the achievements of their children create children who do more to get more. The degree of attention they get from their primary care givers is not something they will readily relinquish. They begin to depend upon this attention as a form of validation of their worth. This external locus of control can be a difficult mindset to reverse.
2. Parents may develop a fear of failure . Children who demonstrate advanced abilities often have parents who come to expect a certain level of performance. They may see the child as a reflection of themselves (this is often unconscious). This investment in performance becomes closely tied to their own sense of self worth. The child’s grades are no longer simply a grade but proof or discredit for the claims they have made. Failure or a decline in performance becomes something to be feared and that pressure is often translated to their children.
3. Early education teachers may miss truly gifted children . In most schools, enrichment programming for gifted students does not begin until around 3rd grade. This is because many studies have shown that by this age the children who were not given a push early on begin to catch up with their “hothoused” peers, creating a more level playing field. Trying to identify the truly gifted from the children whose parents pushed academics can be difficult. As a result, children with innate gifting may find themselves sidelined until about third grade at which point any passion or thirst for learning may have long since been squelched.
These problems can be avoided. However, it takes a great deal of personal insight, reflection and self-checking on the part of parents to make sure that these issues are not created or perpetuated. All children, regardless of ability, need to be given freedom soar and yes, sometimes fail, on a path that is solely theirs. A parent’s job is to support, encourage, love and guide their children so that their unique potential and abilities can emerge unencumbered by unnecessary pressure.