How Hard Should We Push Young People?
I was speaking at a conference earlier this week and got asked this question by a parent:
I want my daughter to be the best she can be, but I’m not sure how hard I should push her?
I get it. You want what’s best for your child. You want to give them the best possible start so they can be happy, achieve their fullest potential and lead successful lives.
But… there is a fine line between being encouraging and pushing too hard. Don’t apply enough pressure and the potential that you see might be wasted. Push too much and pressure mounts, which can cause resentment, disenchantment and even anxiety.
I want to take you back to my childhood because the messages we receive as we grow up shape our identity and influence our path to success. I didn’t come from a place of privilege, but I did come from a place of love and support. Growing up my parents gave me two key ingredients for life.
The first was there’s no such thing as “I can’t”. Those words were not allowed in my vocabulary.
Do you remember learning how to play the recorder in Primary School? I hated those things with a passion. I didn’t enjoy it, I couldn’t get the hang of it, and anybody who happened to be in the vicinity when I was practicing might justifiably have been mistaken in thinking I was trying to strangle the neighbour’s cat.
One day I’d had enough, so I stamped my foot, threw the recorder across the lounge and shouted, “I can’t do it!” My mum picked up the recorder and said, “There’s no such thing as ‘I can’t’. We’ll both learn how to play.” And we did.
I got there in the end, if you consider a tuneless rendition of Little Donkey at the school Christmas play a success, but I did it.
The second ingredient was to work hard. As long as I gave something maximum effort and did my best, then win or lose, my parents would never be disappointed with any of my results.
With these two ingredients I grew up believing that I could do anything I wanted to do, be anyone I wanted to be. No dream was too big, no goal outside the realms of possibility, as long as I worked hard and never quit.
I wasn’t pushed in a particular direction, but rather encouraged to explore, try new things and find my passions. If a new opportunity came my way I was taught to jump at it. If I wasn’t great at something I was encouraged to practise. When I got derailed by challenges I had to pick myself back up and find another way around.
These messages influenced my life so profoundly – and in many ways I still fall back on them today. My parents motivated, inspired and pushed me to be the best I could be - and I was also held accountable. The effort that I put in was my choice to make. If I didn’t get the results I wanted and I’d not worked as hard as I could that was my doing.
This approach did not mean that life was all learning and hard work though. My parents found ways to pique my curiosity. Activities were made to be fun and competitive, and challenges were all the more rewarding for seeing them through. Perseverance and resilience are core ingredients in the pursuit of any goal, requiring us to keep fighting and keep pushing through our comfort zone. How we support children to develop perseverance is a delicate balancing act. Here are three tips to help get the balancing act right: 1. Understand your child We are all different and we all respond to different stimuli. Different personalities respond to pressures differently too, so knowing your child is the first step. Understanding their passions, strengths, capabilities and motivations will help. Ensuring that your child is party to conversations about their interests, activities and career aspirations is key. Engage, discuss and explore – understand what your child wants to achieve and the help they might need to get there. This allows them to buy into the process rather than being dragged along.
2. Effort doesn’t always equal results If you want to be good at something you have to work hard for it, but it’s not a linear equation. More effort doesn’t always equal better results. Training smarter rather than harder often leads to better results and mixing it up with fun activities as well as using a robust goal setting model can really help children develop perseverance and motivation. 3. Praise
Positive reinforcement is a great way to develop intrinsic motivation, self-esteem and perseverance. Praise needs to be meaningful but it needs to be regular, so it is important to praise them at the right times for the right things. Focusing on specific points and drawing out positives even when things haven’t gone as well as hoped are really important, as is praising their effort and tenacity.
Motivation and perseverance are key skills for success. If you would like to learn more about how your child can stay motivated, as well as other crucial success skills like stepping out of their comfort zone, setting BIG goals and preventing being blown off course by instant gratification then you will want to get your hands on a copy of Be Your Best Self.
Written by myself and Nathan, this exciting new book for children is a recipe for success, happiness and esteem. It encourages children to raise their aspirations and turn exciting dreams into a reality. It’s a thought provoking career tool, a vital people skills asset, a modern day confidence builder, an engaging life-hack, and it empowers children to make the most of – and create– opportunities to lead bright and successful futures. Opportunities that EVERY parent would want for their child. Positive and practical, Be Your Best Self empowers children to be happy, be confident and become the best versions of themselves.