Exactly What is ‘The Perfect Child?’ (DE Coast Press)

A Delaware Coast Press reader writes, “I hate to admit this, but I feel like my second grader’s mistakes and blunders are a reflection on me, as if I have somehow bungled his upbringing. Obviously, I’m as ashamed to feel this way as I am ashamed to admit it.” She signed her note, “anonymous.”

I responded to the reader thus: Let’s get right to the point: If you are secure within yourself, then you will view your child’s mistakes simply as mistakes, not necessarily as reflections of yourself. You’ll try to help him identify, correct and learn from his mistakes.

Apparently you are not secure with yourself. You want to instantly “make” him OK, because if you can’t, then somehow you’re not OK. You’ve obviously got your own problems, as your “signature” suggests, but the real damage here is to your boy: You’re sending him the message that his well-being is connected to your own sense of security, rather than to his happiness. The fact that this embarrasses you is at least a small step in the right direction.

The compulsion to turn out “the perfect child” is usually fueled by two factors. One is the parents’ tendency to take the child’s development — or lack of development — personally. This leads a child to focus not on what he wants to do, but more on pleasing others. As an adult, this emotional problem will manifest as trying to gratify others instead of trying to please himself. It’s neurotic and unhealthy, and it distracts him from trying to excel without the added pressure of making everybody else happy. Any success that is achieved will not be very rewarding, and will be hard to sustain. This is often the reason why many talented and gifted people, despite their already impressive accomplishments, exhibit psychological symptoms such as drug or alcohol abuse to cope with their anxiety.

The other reason for this “perfect child” syndrome is the unspoken philosophy behind most education. Public and private schooling in our society is generally based on a classroom model in which “socializing” the child to the “group” is deemed more important than training the individual to use his or her mind confidently. Some home-schooling and Montessori educational approaches focus less on “socializing,” and have been proven to turn out kids who score better on standardized tests and generally develop greater intellectual self-confidence, faring better than those who are taught to fit in as “good little citizens.”

If three-year-old Johnny isn’t interacting with other children the way his three-year-old neighbor is, a rational parent will NOT see this as an indication that he must be shoved into a “special” social group where, more often than not, nothing more than bad manners and germs abound. The rational parent will encourage the child to reason and observe both himself and the social and natural world around him. Socializing should be a consequence of good intellectual development, not a cause. A healthy child will eventually want to socialize, and not with just anyone. He or she will choose friends for mindful, objectively sound reasons.

Parents are advised to do two things. First, check their assumptions about educational philosophies and what really motivates them to have their kids attend certain schools. Second, remember that kids are autonomous, independent beings with minds of their own. Of course they must be guided and sometimes even told what to do, but at the same time, this guidance must be geared toward what’s best for the child; not for the parents’ egos. Even young children make choices, and in most cases their errors are not personal attacks on their parents. The parenting process should be beneficial for both parent and child, but in any conflict between what’s best for the child and what’s best (or feels best) for the parent, the child must prevail.

Dear anonymous reader, you need to set aside your fragile ego. Foster in your boy a well-trained, self-respecting mind, along with the attitude that the world is a potentially knowable and happy place. This training and respect must be for HIS benefit and development, not yours. This is the greatest and only truly long-term contribution any parent can make.


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