top of page

Supporting versus pushing interests

I have a friend who's interested in unschooling but feels that her rather shy daughter would not have varied interests if she hadn't pushed her at certain times.


Quite possibly.


There are adults who were pushed through music by well meaning parents who are grateful for the pushing.


There are adults who were pushed through music by well meaning parents who have so wrapped the memories of coercion and tears and powerlessness around music that they want nothing to do with music.


(Music can be filled in with anything: basketball, cleaning up, writing, math, horses ...)


Both shed tears and complained, so how does a parent know what the outcome will be? Unfortunately we so want to give kids all the advantages that the stories of people who are grateful they were pushed, the times when our kids find happiness in something we pushed them into, loom larger than the far more common stories of people who avoid what they were pushed through.


How many people were forced through 12 years of math and hate it? How many love it?


So, are the only two options pushing while praying or not pushing?


No. But this is a slippery slope for unschoolers because helping kids past the humps can end up being pushing. So, the first idea to examine is that each time we push, we run the risk of the child deciding they need someone else to push them, that they can't move past the difficulties on their own.


It will be also helpful to keep in mind that you could be wrong. It might be the worst thing for that child. And you'll be helping your child with another life skill by letting them assess and decide if it's right. Each time they decide, they learn a bit more about themselves.


So, with that in mind, I'd talk it over with the child. Don't begin with the idea of convincing them they should let you push them since you feel it's a good idea for them.What are their objections (so you can find strategies for the particular fear.) (It's possible they might not know. That's okay. Don't pressure them or they'll pull further way.)


Suggest they try a class to see how it goes. Suggest they sit in on an ongoing class (with the instructors permission). Take the class with them. See this process as finding general strategies for trying things rather than ways of getting them to take advantage of this particular opportunity. There are loads of opportunities.


If it's something you're 99% certain they'll like, let them know that. Ask them as a favor to give it a try for 1 (or 2 or 3) class. (How many depends on your understanding of your child. I didn't sign Kat up for classes that didn't sound up her alley and 3 seemed like a good suggestion. She could opt out earlier.)


But be aware you only have so many "Trust me"s! I suspect the opportunities that didn't work out don't loom as large as our successes for us. But for our kids it's the opposite. You want your "Trust me" to mean something. So you've got to nail it far more than you flub it.


Mom pushed her to try a 4-H horse competition which the kid found she rather liked after doing it.


And while she pursued that she was not pursuing something else. Maybe the other things would have been something she liked even better. Or not.


The point is that there are a million choices we can make, a million things we could get interested in. Every time we focus on one, there's nearly a million others we're not choosing. We can't ever know we've found the ultimate, best thing. But having the freedom to choose and explore is even better than certainty.


Mom says she wouldn't have so much knowledge about horses now and wouldn't have found out she enjoyed such a class if she hadn't been pushed a bit to do it.


The daughter might even agree. But the most important thing is the mother is deciding on the value and that the pushing yielded something the mom values.


The focus should be on the child. What does the child want? We know less what the child wants, less about who the child is -- the child knows less! -- the less we listen and the more we push.


My daughter Kat's a very good distance runner and loves running. She joined the school cross country team. My husband loves running too and was on the same team when he was in high school. He loves competition. Not one of those rabid beat 'em types, but he gets jazzed setting up goals for himself. He tried to help her train to beat the cream of the crop. (Not a huge stretch since she's a natural at it.) At first she enjoyed it. But as she continued, she started to realize the goal of beating someone (and the possibility of failure) didn't float her boat. She just loved to run. It was hard for Carl to even grasp the idea of not caring about competing and there was a lot of strain until he finally accepted that someone could have great talent but want to do something other than what he'd do with it.


She feels it's human nature to go the easy route instead of trying things that are tough.


It's human nature to avoid what we feel is a waste of time, energy and resources.


It's also human nature to pour energy into what we find fascinating.


If someone is made to climb a mountain, they'll find the easiest path, and perhaps even cheat.


If someone desires to climb a mountain, they may even make it more difficult -- challenging -- for themselves if the route doesn't light their fire.


If it were human nature to go the easy route, I wouldn't be sitting here writing out a response! No one would write a novel. No one would climb Mt. Everest. No one would bake a cherry pie from scratch. No one would have kids ;-)


She said when she was growing up maybe if someone had pushed her more to take tougher science classes, she would have become a vet.


It's much easier to blame others for our failures than to accept responsibility.


That sounds harsh and judgmental. It's meant as a universal truth. When we decide we aren't capable of something and feel that we can't accomplish something unless someone else uses their power over us to make us, we can absolve ourselves of failure. It's not our fault we aren't doing x. It's other people's fault for not pushing us, or not clearing the way for us.


A far more useful life skill for kids is knowing they can do whatever they set their minds to. That trumps a knowledge of horses or guitar skills or ability to spell or whatever someone's personal need is.


While it would be easier if her parents had pressured science on her. (And she had liked it.) Now, not being a vet isn't their responsibility. It's hers. She'd be living the idea that you can do anything you put your mind to if she decided to become a vet right now rather than modeling that you can blame your failures on others.


For a shy child, it would be far more valuable for mom to help her find ways the daughter can use to get past the humps to do the things the daughter wants to do. If the daughter gets the idea she needs the mom to push her, she could end up at 20+ wishing her mom had pushed her in science so she could be a vet.


She knows of people who perused the college catalogues, saying "Hmm, what are the easiest classes to take."


When college is seen as another hoop they're pressured to jump through, why wouldn't they choose the easiest route? It isn't until school change to be relevant to people's lives, it isn't until a college degree isn't seen as the key to success, that kids won't be choosing for expediency's sake.


When college is seen as one option to explore what fascinates you, then interest will be the determining factor in choosing courses. That's what will carry over from living a life exploring what fascinates you.



Joyfully Rejoycing
bottom of page