herald

Thursday 16 August 2018

Frozen

The school year has only begun and already competitive parents have dusted off their cattle prods.

I forget kid pushers exist. Then I am reminded some live in a Coliseum and believe in turning their little ones into mini gladiators.

It begins with flash cards and reading programmes before they're weaned. Anyone who's sat up in the night with a teething baby will find on TV mad mammies and daddies teaching their 18-month-olds a programme to achieve before they're toilet trained. So you have a 22-month-old who should be sticking their fingers into bun mixtures sitting in front of PowerPoint presentations on syllables. This makes a future genius apparently.

Of course, it doesn't. Studies show intelligence can be helped but not advanced. No matter how hot-housed a child, the others all catch up. It levels out by the late teens. If your child is born with an average IQ, busting their baby brain is not going to make a blind bit of difference. Except they'll be a bit more worried than children who are outside fitting bits of Lego down the sink drain.

The thirtysomething generation is the one parenting early childhood. My plea is please lay off. Let them relax and be kids. Don't fret over their Froebel programme. Let them find their own way. A part of my work is dealing with the consequences of hothoused children. They know their times tables but they can't hold a conversation. They're quiet or else pushy and their parents "can't figure out what's wrong with him/her. They've had the best".

Too much of the best is a bad thing. Too much attention and not enough relaxation is a bad thing.

My job is to restore creativity. One of my rules is: Make a mess. Please. It has the opposite effect to what you expect. Instead of chaos the children come together to create their stories and illustrations. These are children who school authorities are already labelling a problem. They're just bright enough to know they're in a cage. And outside the cage a pushy parent is often swinging the key.

They want to help their child succeed. Instead they've filled them with fear and the child is frozen into good behaviour. A perfect child is a worried child. All children have a wild streak, no matter how neat their plaits and handwriting.

I met one mother this week. She said about her son: "He wants to be a bin man." I laughed. He loved to watch the big wheelie bins being tipped. This is his Nasa space programme. She wiped the smile off my face by saying: "I told him he won't be going near anything like that."

One of my sons wants to be a pizza delivery man. He loves pizza. He wants to learn how to drive. So he's combining his desires into one dream. They grow out of these fancies so quickly. It's lovely to watch them float by like clouds. Sometimes they remain.

Dreams come naturally to kids. To children bin men are knights. If parents weren't so pushy they might continue to see it that way and become the best bin people in the country. We might answer pollution problems with such promise. Or we can steer them into desks they don't want to sit behind and jobs they only took to please us. Take your pick.

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