The honest truth is that most of us are just average – and that is completely okay!
Be honest now … how many of you were the Dux candidate for academics at your school? Did you make the Olympic Team for gymnastics? Were you on the front page of the newspaper for your Matric results? Have you ever played for the Springboks? I thought not … So if you didn’t, why do you expect so much more from your kids? The truth of the matter is that most of us live pretty ordinary, happy lives and maybe we’re just a bit (dare I say it?) normal – and so are our children.
As a teacher, I would often chat to anxious moms and dads at parent-teacher meetings. The script would always follow this pattern:
Mom: Why is Lilitha only getting 60% for English? She should be getting ‘A’s. What are we doing wrong as parents?
Me: Lilitha is a model student. She is generous and kind, and she is always willing to offer support to her peers. In fact, her mark last term was just above the class average. Most importantly, she works hard in every lesson and always gives of her best.
Dad: But 60% is just not good enough. Our child is not ‘just above average’. She should be getting an A+ in English, like her cousin, Lithemba. My brother is always bragging about Lithemba’s report cards.
Me: But did you notice that Lilitha improved her mark from 58% in Term 1 to 63% in Term 2? She has clearly been putting in the effort and I am proud of her achievements.
Mom: I think we need to get her an English tutor… And she’s grounded until she gets 80% on her report card.
As you can see, these parents are missing the point. Instead of celebrating their daughter’s improvements, they are fixated on an unrealistic marker for high achievement. And that’s not to say they are uncaring – they clearly love their child and want the best for her. But the truth is that Lilitha is an average English student, just like the majority of her class. Yes, we can help her to develop her skills in the subject and over time she will improve (and she may even get that A, eventually) but her marks shouldn’t define her. And this kind of overbearing parenting has some damaging side-effects: anxiety, depression and an intense fear of failure. It is children like Lilitha who often end up in my classroom at break-time having panic attacks.
So what can you do to break this cycle?
Be honest with yourself
Acknowledging that some of your expectations are unrealistic is the first step. You then need to recognise how these may be bound up with your own ego. Are you trying to live vicariously through your child’s achievements? Think about how this might be unhealthy for both of you, and maybe start working towards some of your own goals.
Encourage your child’s interests
Amarah may not be a star Mathematics student but she loves playing soccer and she plays an important role as goalie in the B-Team. Go to all of her matches and show an interest in the development of her team.
Show an interest in your child’s marks and have honest conversations with them about their report cards. Avoid anger, disappointment and recrimination in how you engage with them. Together, you can then create a set of realistic goals for improvement.
Celebrate small gains
Take note of any improvements in your child’s marks. That hard-won 3% increase in Geography is worthy of celebrating with a milkshake, and this sets a good precedent for rewarding improvements over time.
Don’t compare your child to their sibling/cousin/friend
Kids hate this! Remember, you did too. Your child is unique, with their own individual capabilities. Constantly comparing them to others will simply undermine their self-esteem and sense of intrinsic self-worth. Instead, work on self-improvement and encourage them to measure themselves against their own past performance.
Celebrate your child’s individuality
Jamie is obsessed with dinosaurs? Just go with it. Marley loves action frisbee? Just go with it. Thando goes crazy for astronomy? Just go with it. Verashnee spends her weekends knitting tea cozies? Just go with it. Accepting and acknowledging that your child has their own unique personality and interests will allow you to appreciate and value them as individuals.