One of the implications of the current trend toward smaller families is that we now have a generation of parents who are willing to go to enormous lengths to give their children a good start in life.
In the rush to ensure that children have a maximum amount of experiences many parents ferry children from one lesson to another after school and on weekends. This busyness of life takes its toll on children and on families as homes are required to run like clockwork and meals are thrown down between lessons. "To hell with shared mealtime I have to pick up little Jessica from tennis lessons and drop her off at ballet classes" is the mantra of many modern parents.
The self-improvement industry for children is currently thriving, with a staggering variety of programs on offer to children from as young as three. Ballet classes, music lessons, and toddler gymnastics ? the lessons go on. Don't worry if your children become stressed attending all these lessons. There are stress management classes available to help them relax and unwind. We pay quite a price for keeping our kids busy for the sake of getting a winning edge!
Parents are well versed in the knowledge that early childhood is an important developmental stage for children. Positive early experiences influence how a child see him or herself and, as teachers know, assist greatly with the learning process once they start school. But parents need to be careful not to confuse an early start with a good start and place too much pressure on children at a young age. Pull back rather than push ahead is a message we need to send to the parents of today's pressure-cooker kids.
It also seems that many parents are in danger of becoming redundant as they are outsourcing much of their parenting to experts. Parents need to have a little faith that the time that they spend with young children is actually beneficial in giving them the good start in life that they are looking for. The recent trend for primary aged children to have a personal trainer (I kid you not!) to ensure they stay fit and healthy is an example of parents taking this outsourcing too far. It seems that it would be more beneficial for the whole family to adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle, than hire a trainer to give kids a workout.
So why does the move to smaller families place pressure on parents and children? Parenting is something that is learned from experience. With families reducing in size the pressure is on for parents to get their parenting right from the start ? there is little opportunity to grow into the job.
It is timely to remember that a good start for children involves plenty of positive adult attention and regard, consistency of approach, the development of the skills to look after themselves, and the wherewithal to help others. These are all things that parents are well qualified to do.
Michael Grose is Australia's leading parenting educator. He is the author of six books and gives over 100 presentations a year and appears regularly on television, radio and in print.
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