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On Knowing When to Start Pushing Our Kids, and When to Stop

Parents need to decide when to push their children and when to stop pushing.

Photos: Jeannette Kaplun

In the era of over-scheduling and increased teenage stress, it’s so confusing for parents to figure out when to push their kids and when to take a step back. We all want what’s best for our children, but sometimes it’s so hard to figure out what that is. None of us parents have a crystal ball, and we cannot fully understand the consequences of our decisions until time has passed. And of course, hindsight is always 20/20.

So when my daughter said she wanted to compete in gymnastics as an amateur, I struggled with her decision. She’s eight years old (going on 15, as all little girls seem to be these days) and managed to get accepted into the team without any parental interference. It was impressive to see how much she wanted this, and I questioned whether I should have pushed her more from an earlier age when she began demonstrating her flexibility and love for the sport.

On the other hand, she’s still young and has been able to explore friendships, math, music, dance, yoga and other activities so I think she’s better equipped to understand what she really likes to do most. If she doesn’t feel free to explore different interests now and be a kid, when will she have that luxury?

I always thought that following her lead would ensure her happiness. That if I didn’t push her too much, there would be less pressure on her, and she would gravitate towards the activities that bring her the most joy. But what if I’m wrong? What if she truly needs that extra push? What if I’m not allowing her to reach her potential in my efforts to protect her? How can she find out how far she can go if I’m not there motivating her to be more, do more, try more? Most importantly, how do I push without shoving?

I struggle with the notion of having her feel that she’s not good enough at anything. I want her to feel she can achieve anything she sets her mind to, but the reality is that it’s a beautiful idea that sometimes clashes with reality. We can make certain dreams come true, while others we cannot control. So how do we figure out what is within reach and what is unattainable? How do we learn to deal with frustration without allowing it to stop us from doing anything?

While I figure out the answers, I’ve realized that I not only need to support my daughter, but I also need to help empower her so she knows she can get up if she falls; I want her to know that she can try again if she fails, and that it’s important to make peace with trying your best — even if it isn’t enough to achieve your goals.

Most importantly, I think I have shown her you can always reinvent yourself and find new things to feel passionate about. So for now I am following her lead, telling her it’s okay to make mistakes, to keep practicing until she gets better, while at the same time I tell her that she will need to make sacrifices if she wants to seriously pursue gymnastics.

Only time will tell which road she prefers to take but in the meantime, I hope I manage to strike the right balance of pushing while supporting, empowering without coddling, and guiding without interfering.

Find more of Jeannette’s writing on Hispana Global or check out her blog in Spanish. And reach out to her on Twitter and Facebook. She loves it!

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