In my 12 years of experience teaching and counseling teenagers and pre-teenagers, I was not surprised to see the universality of their problems. Regardless of the generation differences, all problems boil down to expectations. I realized that low expectation in kids yield as much unfavorable results as those given high expectations. Here are sure ball must- and mustn't-dos for parents:
1. Never place upon the child the pressure of getting high ratings in school. Whether they be academic or simply extra-curricular, a child who does not live up to this expectation will forever be tormented by the idea that he/she is a failure. For a child who does live up to his/her parent's academic standards, maintaining high ratings in school would be his perpetual balls-and-chains. Plus, a child who's been raised believing that losing equates to personal failure, will grow up not understanding the concept of defeat. Then making sure this particular child does not experience the hurt failure brings will be a parent's worst nightmare. Sometimes, even the idea of “just barely passing" Algebra may be the reason why a straight-A student would suddenly opt to end his/her life.
While it's not bad to tell your child to do his best in school, it's evil to punish him for getting a B. While it's not bad to tell your child to try not to fail, it's unacceptable harass him/her if he does get an F. School, like life, is one big experiment. We go through life using trial-and-error. So cut your kids some slack. Plus, comparing does not only include kids your child's age. This includes you. I grew up in an environment when my parents would tell me how they successfully went about a certain situation in past. And it's not fair. Life 20-30 before is never the same today.
2. Every child is different. It must have been hard for a child in a brood of three to experience the middle-child complex. When the eldest son may have been reaping attention in terms of responsibilities expected of a first born, the middle child may feel a little bit neglected when none is expected of him. And while the youngest may have been enjoying the joys of being a crowd “favorite", the middle child may also feel that he's not special at all. It is possible that even in twins, one would grow to be more likable and successful than the other. It will not be the lesser twin's fault nor would it be the more gifted's if they begin to feel envious of each other. Sometimes, the responsibility of making them understand the existence of such differences should always be assumed by the parent. “Difference" is good. Sometimes, the pressure of disassociating one's self from his/her twin is so overwhelming that twins who grow up in the same household tend to deliberately have very distinct preferences and lifestyle as the grow older. In contrast, twins growing up in different households end up choosing the same type of careers, relationships, etc.
To assure that this does not happen, whatever learning experience a parent gives one child must also be given the other. Caveat: There will always be specializations. One sibling may be highly visual while the other musically-inclined. Do not feel bad if one of your children refuses to use his/her drawing kit. It may not simply interest him/her.
3. Trust in your child more. Some parents who have had it made feel their children should also be the same. There are ways by which parents could bring out the best in their children. And it's not through comparison. Play along the strengths of your child and not along yours. Parents with success stories could go so far as inspiring their kids could take them. Never say “When I was your age, I was able to do this". Seriously. You are not your child.
This is why children of very successful parents tend to hide under their shadows. Believe me. Your child knows about your success. Do not rub it in. Chances are, a child whose parents are very successful, look up to his parents. But to expect your child to live up to the same kind of achievement is murder. If your child starts talking about becoming a doctor because Daddy's one, be thankful. Your job in that aspect is done.
4. While it's true that giving your kids responsibilities is healthy, expecting perfect outcomes out of them is another story. New pedagogical approaches are beginning to advocate process-orientedness other than results-orientedness. It may be true that it's not bad to try be perfect, it does not hurt to say “It's okay. " every once in a while if your child clams up or refuses to rise to the occasion. I remember having been sent to have my dad's car fixed, I was happy to have gone an extra mile by having it waxed and shampooed. Imagine the dread I felt when my father started reprimanding the manager on the phone when I told him how much it cost me. Everybody was so upset I had to cower my way to the car. To this day, I dread going to car shops.
5. Do not pass on to your children your fears, frustrations and angst. Early in their marriage, my parents had a hard time dealing with fitting into their extended families. My dad's family did not approve of my mother. As years went by, my mother told me things I should not have heard about my family. Now that we have totally been accepted in the “circle", I have difficulty building relationships with cousins my age because of the prejudice my mother had created about them.
While it's true that parents will go the distance in keeping their kids straight at all times, there are positive ways by which this could be done and creating unnecessary biases and prejudices is not one of them.
As has been said earlier, life will always be uncertain, sometimes even unfair. It's our job as parents to equip our children with the necessary life-skills that will help them go about their daily lives. There is a great shift in the belief that intelligence quotient does not altogether spell the success and failure of a person. What weighs more is the fact that with whatever skills a child has (whether they be limited or abundant) it would be up to the parents to teach them how to put such gifts to good use.