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Am I Being Too Hard on My Child?

Developing a high achiever without crushing them.

What really drives me is when a parent asks a very thought provoking question. This is usually pretty easy to do when they are challenged with real life issues while raising their children.

While talking to a one of our mothers watching her son in his karate class she surprised me with this question – “Sensei, am I being too hard on my child?”

Wow, what a great question! While I gave her a good answer it has since gotten me to really think about how this topic applies to both parents raising kids and our instructors teaching karate.

So the deeper question is: How do I balance nurturing and developing a happy high achieving children without pushing them too hard and crushing them?

Maybe a good place to start is with a couple stories.

Recently a local family was so proud of their daughter. She had just graduated from high school at the top of her class. To top that off she was an All-State softball player and had earned an athletic scholarship to a top university. But to the shock and dismay of her parents she told them that she did not want to play softball in college. Her parent’s heart sunk when she revealed to them she had only been playing softball for them.

Here is a second story that might help us all take a healthier approach to raising young high achievers: Do you remember when your child first started to walk? What a proud, wonderful time. You could almost tell before they even tried. They slowly used a nearby piece of furniture to prop themselves up. You quickly fumbled with your smart phone to capture this priceless video. They took one glance at you for reassurance then cautiously and carefully let go of the furniture then took that first awkward step. With that step they hesitated, got a very worried look on their face, wobble then promptly fall backward on their backend!

What did you do? I bet you rushed up to your child and give them a huge hug, almost crying you are so happy!

But what if you did this instead……..started yelling at them “No….what is wrong with you?! You are two years old! You should be walking better than that by now! Come on!!!!!!”

What do you think your child would do? My bet is they would be reluctant to try again. If you repeat the same response they might not even want to ever learn to walk.

But let’s also look at it from another angle. What if you kept doing this well after they learned to walk? Say it is a year later. Your child is a great walker but you still have that same initially positive response. At 4 years old you run up to her with a huge hug saying “Oh, Hannah, I can’t believe how good a walker you are! You are so amazing! I am so, so proud of you. You have to be the best walker in the world!!!!!”

So while the first negative reaction will crush a child, the second positive reaction over done for too long can be just as damaging. Child development experts have found that while positive praise will initially raise a child’s self esteem when over done it actually does the opposite and hurts their self esteem and self worth.

So in this world of “everybody gets a trophy” and don’t keep score because “everybody is a winner” there has to be a balance.

This is the process we use at the dojo that might help make this easier for you.

It involves the understanding of the use of “Attitude and Effort” and “Standards and Expectations”.

First, let’s get this out of the way. Parent need to resist the natural temptation of living their lives through their child. The classic case is the dad that played football and is intent on developing the next NFL first round draft pick.

Attitude and Effort: Here is the key – always reward their good attitude and effort, particularly at the beginning. So say they are trying baseball for the first time. At the start do not be critical or instructional. Do not talk about the game or techniques. Just say these magical words “Joey, I loved watching you play baseball today!”

We do the same thing initially at the dojo. While that one Dad gets on us at times saying “What was that? My son can’t throw a half way decent kick?”, we know that right thing to do is praise that student for their initial effort and attitude. It is called rewarding “Approximations of Success”. Just like that baby first learning to walk! When you do this you will put in place that strong desire and drive to try their best and never give up – amazing attitude and effort!

Standards and Expectations: But this praising of attitude and effort will not work for long. As mentioned above, continued use of these overly rewarding actually hurts their self esteem when everything comes too easy with little effort. So how do you push and encourage them without crushing them? Instead of getting on them, criticizing and nagging them take a higher path. Set gradually higher and higher level of standards and expectations. (This is how self confidence is developed – getting good at hard things that take time to learn!) How? Well, the best and strongest influence on your standards is the “peer group you hang around with”. The dojo is very well designed to do this. From the day you walked in those doors your standards were raised. Even from day one you were set on a mission to become a “black belt”. All the senior students and instructors are instant role models that say “just do like us”. You even say “Try My Best” every time you bow. You floor your parents when you repeatedly yell “I love reading!” Yes, when you walk in you know you have to “step up”!

Okay so how do you as a parent apply this? Well, guess what’s your child’s first and primary peer group? Their family!

Using me as an example, being raised in a typical Asian family, I grew up knowing without a doubt in my mind that I was going to attend and graduate from a top college. The joke with Asian families is “It is not a question of whether you go to college or not. It is just a question of whether you go to Harvard or Stanford!?” Why? Because my parents valued education above almost everything else. They not only valued it. They both went to college but not only that, they kept learning. They taught us you never stop learning and that learning was the key to your future.

So what standard do you hold your family up to? Here is the hard part, you have to “walk the talk”. You have to actually DO the standard you expect! Here is a great way to start. Sit down with your family, grab a pad of paper and identify your family’s culture and standards. Just start with this phrase “In our family we always…………”

Just brainstorm and I think you will be surprised by what you and your child come with!

And, hey, when you do, send me a copy of your “Our Family Always….” List!

‘Till next time!

Yours for Rock Solid (and high standard) Kids,


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