It is the season of college acceptances and rejections, which always stirs up feelings of angst in the hearts of parents. To compete in the world today, it helps to be armed with a good education and a passion for somethingÂ—whether it be music, art, a sport, an interest in international affairs, a flair for debate, a love of writing, or a knack for business. What can parents do to instill excellence and passion in a child when he is young?
On the one hand, parents want to expose their children to as many different possibilities and avenues as possibleÂ—tae kwon doe, gymnastics, violin, piano, tennis, singing, languageÂ—the options are endless. On the other hand, parents are being cautioned against over-programming their children and not allowing enough time for free play and down time. In addition, there are only so many hours in the day. Children are not getting enough sleep. There are endless time-wasting distractions such as television and computer games. Transporting children to all these activities is time consuming and difficult, especially when both parents work. For some reason, the hours and volume of homework seems to increase each year. Even the early elementary grades get homework assignments. And, these activities are not usually free. As the economy sours, parents must be more judicious in the selection of these extracurricular events.
So while it seems reasonable to expose your child to a variety of activities, the other issue is how to develop excellence. By doing lots of things, your child may learn to perform in each activity but not excel in anything. In this competitive world, the top performers often pursue only one skill at a very young age. Pianists, tennis players, chess champions, and math whizzes may spend hours of free time becoming the best in the chosen activity to the exclusion of others.
So what is a parent to do? I always recommend listening to the child. If she shows interest and passion in one particular activity, by all means encourage the pursuit of excellence in that field. Most children, however, enjoy a variety of extracurricular choices and these may vary from year to year. Peer influence, as well as geographic reality, may play a role. It is no accident that good tennis players tend to come from warm weather states such as California and Florida. Your child may not do well with any after school activities. He may need to decompress at the end of the day.
Listen to your child and continue to expose and encourage, but donÂ’t let the whole household revolve around the child. ParentsÂ’ time, energy, and interests count too! And donÂ’t put too much pressure on your child. While passion and excellence are wonderful things, so is enjoying childhood.
Dr. Victoria McEvoy graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1975 and is currently an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at HMS. She is the Medical Director and Chief of Pediatrics at Mass General West Medical Group. She has practiced pediatrics for almost thirty years. She has been married to Earl for thirty six years and raised four children. She currently enjoys writing, traveling, reading, almost all sports, and spending time with her two grandsons.
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