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Competitive Parenting As Child’s Play

If April is the cruelest month, March has to be the strangest. At least, this March: What a strange few weeks it’s been. Silda Spitzer stands by Eliot; Gilligan’s Mary Ann is a stoner.

Then, last night, as I was watching my daughter thumb through a new catalog from a local toy store, I noticed small icons at the bottom of each product description. It turns out that they are “ExpressCodes,” or ratings that indicate “how the product can assist in reaching your child’s developmental milestones.”

Yeah, seriously: A basketball, for example, is called out for propelling a kid toward the milestone of Eye/Hand Coordination (“hands manipulating objects, things fitting together, coordination”) and Gross Motor (“physical play, running, throwing, jumping”). A set of plastic dinosaurs promote Eye/Hand along with Fine Motor (“grasping, manipulating, writing, drawing”), Socialization (“cooperative play, making friends, sharing”), and Creative Expression (“imaginative play, artistic ability”).

Are codes in a toy catalog a big deal? No, in the grand scheme of life, they’re barely a blip. But they feed into a whole competitive-parenting groundswell of doing the right things for kids at the right time, else they be marginalized for life. March is, after all, also the time when parents typically white-knuckle getting their kids into the right school—from preschool on up. I’m not sure whether marketers need to lighten up on parents, or parents need to lighten up on themselves. But either way, someone has to lighten up on childhood.

As Caroline flipped through the pages last night, both of us couldn’t help but smirk a little at the idea of a kite or a jump rope being anything other than… well, toys.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the ethics of the local store franchise owner, who explained to my daughter a few months ago that he took Webkinz charms off his store’s shelves because their maker couldn’t ascertain whether they were lead-free. And I like the toys he sells.

But the idea of categorizing toys into buckets for “developmental milestones” irks me. On the surface, it’s the sort of inane thing that ridiculously assigns the “Make Up Star Station” three icons (Fine Motor, Visual Perception, Eye/Hand Coordination) or spawns other silly products. (“ATTENTION, COMPETITIVE PARENTS,” writes Dave Barry, “No point in letting your teenager waste several minutes a day showering; turn bathroom time into study time today!”)

But at its core it’s a notion that every childhood joy is an opportunity to groom children for success. Toys that were once just kites and balls and dress-up games are now freighted with a whole ‘nuther imperative. It’s a lot of pressure on parents to provide the “right” toy. Ultimately, it places a lot of pressure on kids, too.

When my oldest son was four months old, I remember feeling bested by another mother I met waiting at the pediatrician’s office with her one-year-old. She cooed in a perfunctory manner at Evan’s doe eyes peering up at her from beneath his blanket, then said, “Well, he sure is tiny! My son has been in the 90th percentile for height and weight since he was that age!”

Later, when I relayed this story to a friend who’d already had four kids of her own, she let out a sharp laugh.

“Ha!” she barked. “So now you know: Parenting is a competitive sport.”

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52 Responses to Competitive Parenting As Child’s Play

  1. Toad says:

    But as you and I know Ann, the kids with the most competitive parents are inevitably the most insane and most disappointing to the parents.
    Not too tough to see it coming: the child of a parent who constantly judges others and finds them wanting will wind up feeling judged and wanting themselves.

    As for catalogs: my favorite is First Steps (I think) which my wife and I have dubbed “Neurotic Parents Monthly” filled with overpriced and useless items like shopping cart seat covers

  2. Toad says:

    But as you and I know Ann, the kids with the most competitive parents are inevitably the most insane and most disappointing to the parents.
    Not too tough to see it coming: the child of a parent who constantly judges others and finds them wanting will wind up feeling judged and wanting themselves.

    As for catalogs: my favorite is First Steps (I think) which my wife and I have dubbed “Neurotic Parents Monthly” filled with overpriced and useless items like shopping cart seat covers

  3. Toad’s comment above is coded “E” for empathy, and will contribute 32.7 percent to your competitive commenting profile rating…

  4. Toad’s comment above is coded “E” for empathy, and will contribute 32.7 percent to your competitive commenting profile rating…

  5. Connie Reece says:

    Marketing with guilt as motivator: buy this toy or child is destined to fail! Ugh.

    What I also want to know is, when did parents start doing their kids’ homework? I don’t mean helping. I could always ask my mom or dad a question if I didn’t understand something. But I have cousins who have actually written their kid’s papers for them. One of them said, “But I have to make sure he gets in the right college.”

  6. Connie Reece says:

    Marketing with guilt as motivator: buy this toy or child is destined to fail! Ugh.

    What I also want to know is, when did parents start doing their kids’ homework? I don’t mean helping. I could always ask my mom or dad a question if I didn’t understand something. But I have cousins who have actually written their kid’s papers for them. One of them said, “But I have to make sure he gets in the right college.”

  7. Ann Handley says:

    Toad & Connie — The codes make me laugh, too. But I’m also guessing that much of the competition parents feel is rooted in some kind of insecurity… and that it’s fed by the wackier ends of our culture (including the businesses that want to sell stuff to said parents!)

    As for writing school papers… given the pressure and competition around getting into a good college these days, I can honestly see the temptation…. as much as I can recognize it for what it is: A really, really bad idea…. (Anyway — can’t your cousin’s kid just lift stuff off the internet like everyone else’s kid? Talk about crazy! sheesh!)
    : )

    Steve — You are also 40 percent more funny tonight!

  8. Ann Handley says:

    Toad & Connie — The codes make me laugh, too. But I’m also guessing that much of the competition parents feel is rooted in some kind of insecurity… and that it’s fed by the wackier ends of our culture (including the businesses that want to sell stuff to said parents!)

    As for writing school papers… given the pressure and competition around getting into a good college these days, I can honestly see the temptation…. as much as I can recognize it for what it is: A really, really bad idea…. (Anyway — can’t your cousin’s kid just lift stuff off the internet like everyone else’s kid? Talk about crazy! sheesh!)
    : )

    Steve — You are also 40 percent more funny tonight!

  9. Burbanked says:

    I think the competitive nature of such ratings is only half the story. In addition, it’s just another way for a consumer product to do a lazy parent’s work for them. “Gee, junior is having some trouble developing his hand-eye coordination. Perhaps if I bought him this….BASKETBALL, everything will turn out all right!”

    And let me guess: that “development rating” (which is qualified…how, exactly?) probably accompanies a legal disclaimer along the lines of “Rating not meant to ensure or predict future athletic prowess. If your child is complete klutz, please consult a physician before dribbling.”

  10. Burbanked says:

    I think the competitive nature of such ratings is only half the story. In addition, it’s just another way for a consumer product to do a lazy parent’s work for them. “Gee, junior is having some trouble developing his hand-eye coordination. Perhaps if I bought him this….BASKETBALL, everything will turn out all right!”

    And let me guess: that “development rating” (which is qualified…how, exactly?) probably accompanies a legal disclaimer along the lines of “Rating not meant to ensure or predict future athletic prowess. If your child is complete klutz, please consult a physician before dribbling.”

  11. As a currently child-free newlywed, this information is disturbing. Very disturbing.

  12. As a currently child-free newlywed, this information is disturbing. Very disturbing.

  13. Dusan says:

    Some 6 months for me to jump into the competitive race. Be affraid, be very affraid of this competitor. :-)))))

    Yet my competition will be how to help my children explore the life, understand people, enjoy this lovely earth, love the simple moments, smile a lot (and more) and somehow just enjoy what they do?

    Ann, I’ll read more advices, keep it going. :-)

  14. Dusan says:

    Some 6 months for me to jump into the competitive race. Be affraid, be very affraid of this competitor. :-)))))

    Yet my competition will be how to help my children explore the life, understand people, enjoy this lovely earth, love the simple moments, smile a lot (and more) and somehow just enjoy what they do?

    Ann, I’ll read more advices, keep it going. :-)

  15. Ann Handley says:

    Burbanked — That’s quite a combination, potentially: Lazy AND Competitive. Holy smokes.

  16. Ann Handley says:

    Burbanked — That’s quite a combination, potentially: Lazy AND Competitive. Holy smokes.

  17. First, the LearningExpress *is* a cool store. There’s one nearby (& it’s where we bought most of our Thomas the Tank Engine stuff, the plastic desks that can be personalized, etc. Anyway….).

    On one hand, I can see where the store’s marketers are trying to differentiate itself and focus on the “learning” part of its name by showing how toys can be more than *just* toys. Maybe it’s trying to be like the Lamaze and TinyLove toys that focus on development.

    However, it also seems like a dummies’ guide for parenting. Which is insulting, silly and just plain dumb.

    -Mike

  18. First, the LearningExpress *is* a cool store. There’s one nearby (& it’s where we bought most of our Thomas the Tank Engine stuff, the plastic desks that can be personalized, etc. Anyway….).

    On one hand, I can see where the store’s marketers are trying to differentiate itself and focus on the “learning” part of its name by showing how toys can be more than *just* toys. Maybe it’s trying to be like the Lamaze and TinyLove toys that focus on development.

    However, it also seems like a dummies’ guide for parenting. Which is insulting, silly and just plain dumb.

    -Mike

  19. That’s why Aunties should be responsible for all the toy giving! We’re all about pure joy for our nieces and nephews. Of course, most moms and dads are too. But Aunties will spend $$$ just to put a smile on their faces. I hope competition never spoils that for us too.

  20. That’s why Aunties should be responsible for all the toy giving! We’re all about pure joy for our nieces and nephews. Of course, most moms and dads are too. But Aunties will spend $$$ just to put a smile on their faces. I hope competition never spoils that for us too.

  21. Tyson says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more… I have a 2.5 and a 4 year old, and already there is pressure to have kids attend classes, activities, sports, lessons, you name it. Am sick of the competitiveness.

    In a perfect world, my sons would do the following once they reach elementary school/junior high.

    Spend one season playing a sport, one season with a job earning his keep, and the other season with absolutely nothing programmed- build a fort in the backyard, play tag with neighbors kids, etc…What ever happened to the days of goofing off after school and burning ants with magnifying glasses? ;-)

  22. Tyson says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more… I have a 2.5 and a 4 year old, and already there is pressure to have kids attend classes, activities, sports, lessons, you name it. Am sick of the competitiveness.

    In a perfect world, my sons would do the following once they reach elementary school/junior high.

    Spend one season playing a sport, one season with a job earning his keep, and the other season with absolutely nothing programmed- build a fort in the backyard, play tag with neighbors kids, etc…What ever happened to the days of goofing off after school and burning ants with magnifying glasses? ;-)

  23. Bhupesh says:

    Parent is a competitive sport but only if you choose to play the game. Not suggesting that we be spectators tho’ :)

    They should have ratings on how much interactivity it enables. For example a basketball would be a 7 out of 10, chess would be 10… THAT would help parents.

    The teachers at our children’s school are always pleasantly surprised at the type of questions I ask during Parent-Teacher Interviews.

    Never “why is Jr. only getting a B in Music” or “I think he should have gotten more marks for that exploding volcano that I…um…he… worked on all weekend?”

    I ask:
    1. Is he socializing?
    2. Is he considerate of others?
    3. Does he seem to be having fun?
    4. Does he participate in class? Ask a lot of questions and offer a lot of answers?

    Totally agree with Tyson – except for the burning ants with a magnifying glass. I did that and STILL feel bad about it to this day!

  24. Bhupesh says:

    Parent is a competitive sport but only if you choose to play the game. Not suggesting that we be spectators tho’ :)

    They should have ratings on how much interactivity it enables. For example a basketball would be a 7 out of 10, chess would be 10… THAT would help parents.

    The teachers at our children’s school are always pleasantly surprised at the type of questions I ask during Parent-Teacher Interviews.

    Never “why is Jr. only getting a B in Music” or “I think he should have gotten more marks for that exploding volcano that I…um…he… worked on all weekend?”

    I ask:
    1. Is he socializing?
    2. Is he considerate of others?
    3. Does he seem to be having fun?
    4. Does he participate in class? Ask a lot of questions and offer a lot of answers?

    Totally agree with Tyson – except for the burning ants with a magnifying glass. I did that and STILL feel bad about it to this day!

  25. Cam Beck says:

    All competitions I can think of have standard rules against which winners and losers can be judged.

    In many important respects, through which we often measure success and happiness, this is not so with life.

    Life is — and people are — so diverse and unpredictable it’s impossible to immediately know what aptitudes and skills our kids can most ably develop to best ensure their security and happiness.

    Identifying a marketable skill is one thing, but it may be entirely different to develop that skill to a point that our children can become successful at it in life.

    I may love to play football, for instance, but wanting to be 6’5″, 255 lb linebacker might not be in the cards, and for reasons other than just desire and determination.

    Platitudes to the contrary, we cannot really do all that we ever want to do, if we just wish it enough.

    Consequently, “whatever your parents do” seems to be the standard fare, but with 67% of the U.S. workforce reporting that they are unhappy at their jobs, there may be some problems with that model.

    We all want what is “best” for our children, but the only way we know how to measure that is through our own experiences and imaginations, which are understandably limited.

    Kids have the imagination, but lack the knowledge. Our job is to impart that on them, as best we can. But to be most successful at that, I’ve found it’s best if they believe it was their idea to seek and acquire it. :)

  26. Cam Beck says:

    All competitions I can think of have standard rules against which winners and losers can be judged.

    In many important respects, through which we often measure success and happiness, this is not so with life.

    Life is — and people are — so diverse and unpredictable it’s impossible to immediately know what aptitudes and skills our kids can most ably develop to best ensure their security and happiness.

    Identifying a marketable skill is one thing, but it may be entirely different to develop that skill to a point that our children can become successful at it in life.

    I may love to play football, for instance, but wanting to be 6’5″, 255 lb linebacker might not be in the cards, and for reasons other than just desire and determination.

    Platitudes to the contrary, we cannot really do all that we ever want to do, if we just wish it enough.

    Consequently, “whatever your parents do” seems to be the standard fare, but with 67% of the U.S. workforce reporting that they are unhappy at their jobs, there may be some problems with that model.

    We all want what is “best” for our children, but the only way we know how to measure that is through our own experiences and imaginations, which are understandably limited.

    Kids have the imagination, but lack the knowledge. Our job is to impart that on them, as best we can. But to be most successful at that, I’ve found it’s best if they believe it was their idea to seek and acquire it. :)

  27. Uwe says:

    This is fairly disturbing. Just like the Baby Einstein videos they shove down parents throats, claiming it helps development. The combination of hovering parents and increasing challenges of getting your kids in a decent school make for a depressing marketing environment.

  28. Uwe says:

    This is fairly disturbing. Just like the Baby Einstein videos they shove down parents throats, claiming it helps development. The combination of hovering parents and increasing challenges of getting your kids in a decent school make for a depressing marketing environment.

  29. Dave Atkins says:

    Another thing along similar lines are the ridiculous lead-ins to cartoons on Noggin like Dora and Diego. Before every episode there is a message to the effect of “this episode teaches children interpersonal skills, using tools, and the diversity of wildlife.” But I don’t really believe just because that is how it is advertised, it means parents believe it. Same for the Baby Einstein videos. Only an idiot would believe those DVDs could actually make your child smarter. But it makes you feel a little better than plopping the kids down in front of random commercial television. It’s like the “whole-grain” chicken nuggets I bought the other night. Do I believe it is “healthy.” Not really. But it’s better than the other alternatives in front of me at the grocery store and more plausible than thinking we can make our own natural, nutritious food for the kids.

    The reason for so many activities for kids is not competition, it is survival…do you know what it is like to have an unplanned Saturday with 2 toddlers under 3 and a 4-week old? It’s not as much fun as it sounds. Having something organized and planned to do is necessary for the parents, even moreso than the children.

  30. Dave Atkins says:

    Another thing along similar lines are the ridiculous lead-ins to cartoons on Noggin like Dora and Diego. Before every episode there is a message to the effect of “this episode teaches children interpersonal skills, using tools, and the diversity of wildlife.” But I don’t really believe just because that is how it is advertised, it means parents believe it. Same for the Baby Einstein videos. Only an idiot would believe those DVDs could actually make your child smarter. But it makes you feel a little better than plopping the kids down in front of random commercial television. It’s like the “whole-grain” chicken nuggets I bought the other night. Do I believe it is “healthy.” Not really. But it’s better than the other alternatives in front of me at the grocery store and more plausible than thinking we can make our own natural, nutritious food for the kids.

    The reason for so many activities for kids is not competition, it is survival…do you know what it is like to have an unplanned Saturday with 2 toddlers under 3 and a 4-week old? It’s not as much fun as it sounds. Having something organized and planned to do is necessary for the parents, even moreso than the children.

  31. Ann Handley says:

    Dave — Do you think some parents really do think that an episode of Dora contains, say, 17 percent more instruction in life skills than say, The Berenstain Bears? I’m not sure — but I bet there are some parents who do, like for real, and aren’t just rationalizing (like some of us!)

    As for scheduled activities — that’s true, too. It’s terrifying…. Of course, too bad all those OTHER parents are sending their kids to activities and lessons and Origami workshops on Saturday mornings.. now my kids are REALLY bored! ; )

  32. Ann Handley says:

    Dave — Do you think some parents really do think that an episode of Dora contains, say, 17 percent more instruction in life skills than say, The Berenstain Bears? I’m not sure — but I bet there are some parents who do, like for real, and aren’t just rationalizing (like some of us!)

    As for scheduled activities — that’s true, too. It’s terrifying…. Of course, too bad all those OTHER parents are sending their kids to activities and lessons and Origami workshops on Saturday mornings.. now my kids are REALLY bored! ; )

  33. ANNIE -

    Our dog, Maggie is a fetchaholic. She trained our son at 5 months to push the ball off any surface so she can fetch it and bring it back to him. I wonder what rating Maggie would get? Gross motor, socialization, visual perception…

    QUICK! EVERYONE GET A DOG!

    Seriously — what happened to plain old common sense?

    I can’t help but blow a giant raspberry at the makers of your catalog – as well as the parents who obsessively overstimulate and overschedule their children in the name of advancing their development. It’s time for the madness to stop!

    As the mother of an almost six month old, we have many toys. I’m a consultant – so I leverage my OCD to do research on toys… and most of what we buy is done after we get feedback from friends or ratings on sites like Amazon about safety, engagement.. etc. However, what I find is that regardless of the ratings and feedback , finding something he likes is mostly a crapshoot.

    What is a 100% winner with our son, however, is spending TIME with US! What he seems to love most — and where he seems to LEARN most is interacting with us!

    MTV did a survey recently on teenagers, asking them what they like to do in their free time. a startling 87% (pretty sure that’s it) of them responded that they most like hanging out with their parents! Yet we insist on overscheduling and overstimulating them with activities designed to help them develop — sometimes at the expense of developing relationships at home…We sometimes look forward to getting them out of the house… until they leave for good and we get depressed.

    When was a kid, the best gift in the world was a refrigerator box. I was a “fortaholic”… and my cardboard creations were a haven for weeks. My parents graciously allowed the cardboard atrocities to dominate our living room. They also helped me cut the doors and windows with our bread knife and built my architecture skills: They knew it encouraged my creativity… and mostly –once my dolls were moved in with me — it just kept me quiet awhile.

    So I don’t care about those skills rankings… really.

    What I’d LOVE to know if there is a toy out there that is guaranteed to hold my son’s attention for 15 minutes to a half-hour at a time. I’m talking money back guarantee!

    I’d also like to know which toys are made without child labor …and are not sprayed with lead paint.

    If the toy industry can get THAT right I might want some input on how they can sell me things to help my son develop. Until then, he’s doing FINE.

    Yes, he is fine with pots, wooden spoons, rattles, blocks and smooching the dog (yes- we allow dog hair and germs in moderation) and spending LOTS of time with mom and dad! Doesn’t seem to be hurting him a bit.

    When the time comes, I’m really going to enjoy finding him large boxes, to play in. They’re highly rated, FREE and don’t require batteries!

    Toys are toys.. Ratings are nice but largely designed to SELL things. I want to see my son learn, but I’m not going to obsessively push him…. I’m just enjoying watching his brilliance unfold in front of me and thankful to God that he’s healthy and happy.

  34. ANNIE -

    Our dog, Maggie is a fetchaholic. She trained our son at 5 months to push the ball off any surface so she can fetch it and bring it back to him. I wonder what rating Maggie would get? Gross motor, socialization, visual perception…

    QUICK! EVERYONE GET A DOG!

    Seriously — what happened to plain old common sense?

    I can’t help but blow a giant raspberry at the makers of your catalog – as well as the parents who obsessively overstimulate and overschedule their children in the name of advancing their development. It’s time for the madness to stop!

    As the mother of an almost six month old, we have many toys. I’m a consultant – so I leverage my OCD to do research on toys… and most of what we buy is done after we get feedback from friends or ratings on sites like Amazon about safety, engagement.. etc. However, what I find is that regardless of the ratings and feedback , finding something he likes is mostly a crapshoot.

    What is a 100% winner with our son, however, is spending TIME with US! What he seems to love most — and where he seems to LEARN most is interacting with us!

    MTV did a survey recently on teenagers, asking them what they like to do in their free time. a startling 87% (pretty sure that’s it) of them responded that they most like hanging out with their parents! Yet we insist on overscheduling and overstimulating them with activities designed to help them develop — sometimes at the expense of developing relationships at home…We sometimes look forward to getting them out of the house… until they leave for good and we get depressed.

    When was a kid, the best gift in the world was a refrigerator box. I was a “fortaholic”… and my cardboard creations were a haven for weeks. My parents graciously allowed the cardboard atrocities to dominate our living room. They also helped me cut the doors and windows with our bread knife and built my architecture skills: They knew it encouraged my creativity… and mostly –once my dolls were moved in with me — it just kept me quiet awhile.

    So I don’t care about those skills rankings… really.

    What I’d LOVE to know if there is a toy out there that is guaranteed to hold my son’s attention for 15 minutes to a half-hour at a time. I’m talking money back guarantee!

    I’d also like to know which toys are made without child labor …and are not sprayed with lead paint.

    If the toy industry can get THAT right I might want some input on how they can sell me things to help my son develop. Until then, he’s doing FINE.

    Yes, he is fine with pots, wooden spoons, rattles, blocks and smooching the dog (yes- we allow dog hair and germs in moderation) and spending LOTS of time with mom and dad! Doesn’t seem to be hurting him a bit.

    When the time comes, I’m really going to enjoy finding him large boxes, to play in. They’re highly rated, FREE and don’t require batteries!

    Toys are toys.. Ratings are nice but largely designed to SELL things. I want to see my son learn, but I’m not going to obsessively push him…. I’m just enjoying watching his brilliance unfold in front of me and thankful to God that he’s healthy and happy.

  35. You said it, Anne: “But either way, someone has to lighten up on childhood.” Seriously!!!

    Some (extremely competitive) parents think that getting their kids involved in EVERY activity is good for the kids. It’s not. Kids can suffer from burn-out, too. Nobody likes to be a rat on a wheel; it’s a bad habit to get kids used to that kind of mindless, meaningless, anxious approach to life. We know a few neighborhood kids who are so over-scheduled — they are so young, and they are already so stressed out. Kids do need to have free play, use their imaginations, daydream…

    I have a feeling that none of us grew up with the amount of external stress that these kids have. We all turned out pretty OK, didn’t we? ;)

  36. You said it, Anne: “But either way, someone has to lighten up on childhood.” Seriously!!!

    Some (extremely competitive) parents think that getting their kids involved in EVERY activity is good for the kids. It’s not. Kids can suffer from burn-out, too. Nobody likes to be a rat on a wheel; it’s a bad habit to get kids used to that kind of mindless, meaningless, anxious approach to life. We know a few neighborhood kids who are so over-scheduled — they are so young, and they are already so stressed out. Kids do need to have free play, use their imaginations, daydream…

    I have a feeling that none of us grew up with the amount of external stress that these kids have. We all turned out pretty OK, didn’t we? ;)

  37. Shelley says:

    Agreeing with Leigh on kids, dogs, and enormous cardboard boxes. Forts made from blankets, too.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve bought my daughter something she really really really wanted, only to see it gathering dust because it didn’t provide the ecstatic experience that the package/commercial/catalog promised. But a giant empty box! Limitless fun. Truly.

  38. Shelley says:

    Agreeing with Leigh on kids, dogs, and enormous cardboard boxes. Forts made from blankets, too.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve bought my daughter something she really really really wanted, only to see it gathering dust because it didn’t provide the ecstatic experience that the package/commercial/catalog promised. But a giant empty box! Limitless fun. Truly.

  39. danna Call says:

    I love what Deepak Chopra says in 7 Spiritual Laws of Success.
    He told his children “…there was a reason why they were here,and they had to find out what that reason was for themselves. From the age of four years, they heard this….I told them,” I never, ever want you to worry about making a living. If you’re unable to make a living when you grow up, I’ll provide for you… I don’t want you to focus on doing well in school. I don’t what you to focus on getting the best grades or going to the best colleges. What I really want you to focus on is asking yourself how you can serve humanity, and asking yourself what your unique talents are. Because you have a unique talent that no one else has, and you have a special way of expressing that talent, and on one else has it.” They ended up going to the best schools, getting the best grades,…they are financially self-sufficient, because they are focused on what they are here to give.

  40. danna Call says:

    I love what Deepak Chopra says in 7 Spiritual Laws of Success.
    He told his children “…there was a reason why they were here,and they had to find out what that reason was for themselves. From the age of four years, they heard this….I told them,” I never, ever want you to worry about making a living. If you’re unable to make a living when you grow up, I’ll provide for you… I don’t want you to focus on doing well in school. I don’t what you to focus on getting the best grades or going to the best colleges. What I really want you to focus on is asking yourself how you can serve humanity, and asking yourself what your unique talents are. Because you have a unique talent that no one else has, and you have a special way of expressing that talent, and on one else has it.” They ended up going to the best schools, getting the best grades,…they are financially self-sufficient, because they are focused on what they are here to give.

  41. Mukund Mohan says:

    You write awesome. Just wanted to say that. :) Glad you write. Even glad I can grab a coffee and read this instead of an editorial on SJ Merc. Keep writing. Thanks

  42. Mukund Mohan says:

    You write awesome. Just wanted to say that. :) Glad you write. Even glad I can grab a coffee and read this instead of an editorial on SJ Merc. Keep writing. Thanks

  43. Rachel says:

    Hummm…..I guess my kids are destined to be as unsuccessful as I am because I don’t buy into the Baby Einstein garbage. What a shame for them. At 3 and 17 months, their destiny is already sealed. Poor, poor kids. And to add to that, I’m really screwing them up because I don’t let them sit in front of the TV all day watching Noggin. As I’m sure you already know, it’s because I don’t want them to learn anything. I make them play instead.

    Love ya Ann, for feelin’ the pain! What’s WITH these parents????

  44. Rachel says:

    Hummm…..I guess my kids are destined to be as unsuccessful as I am because I don’t buy into the Baby Einstein garbage. What a shame for them. At 3 and 17 months, their destiny is already sealed. Poor, poor kids. And to add to that, I’m really screwing them up because I don’t let them sit in front of the TV all day watching Noggin. As I’m sure you already know, it’s because I don’t want them to learn anything. I make them play instead.

    Love ya Ann, for feelin’ the pain! What’s WITH these parents????

  45. Nathan Snell says:

    I’m not a parent but being closer to other end of the spectrum, just now officially entering the ‘pro’ world, so hopefully no one minds if i chime in here.

    First, I’d say to the parents doing kids homework so they get into a good college, that’s ridiculous. I think it falls inline with Toads analysis.

    I’ve had a number of friend who had very, very competitive parents placing a huge pressure on them. All of them “cracked” so to speak (not saying all will, but sadly in this case, all did). Some in worse ways than others.

    When it comes to it, I don’t think it matters what college your kid gets into it or how “smart” they really are. They are going to be the ones who inevitably define their future, and their success will lay in that.

    I honestly didn’t realize there was this whole “competitive” parenting. I suppose that makes me lucky, but honestly, it makes me sad instead.

  46. Nathan Snell says:

    I’m not a parent but being closer to other end of the spectrum, just now officially entering the ‘pro’ world, so hopefully no one minds if i chime in here.

    First, I’d say to the parents doing kids homework so they get into a good college, that’s ridiculous. I think it falls inline with Toads analysis.

    I’ve had a number of friend who had very, very competitive parents placing a huge pressure on them. All of them “cracked” so to speak (not saying all will, but sadly in this case, all did). Some in worse ways than others.

    When it comes to it, I don’t think it matters what college your kid gets into it or how “smart” they really are. They are going to be the ones who inevitably define their future, and their success will lay in that.

    I honestly didn’t realize there was this whole “competitive” parenting. I suppose that makes me lucky, but honestly, it makes me sad instead.

  47. grace says:

    my town is filled with competitive parents…everywhere you turn they are there. it seems that only level one classes are acceptable in the high school and you find people are ashamed if their child must move down to level two…goodness knows you are a loser if you need a slower paced math class! GMAFB!

    all this trickles down to the children and teenagers…they become the diminutive of their parents, taking their parents’ views and making them their own.

    i had to laugh at your story at the pediatrician. i have had the exact opposite experience. as a mother of very large babies who have grown up, thus far, to be much taller than their peers, i endured the raised eyebrow and sideways glances of mothers who thought my children, especially the middle one, were more than a year older than they actually were- due to size – when they were toddlers…and therefore not terribly bright.

    many years ago we were waiting with other parents and their babies & toddlers, for my eldest to get out of nursery school. my, then, youngest had barely mastered the “normal” speech of two year olds and was walking around trying to talk to the other parents and children – a very social two year old – and was unable to really communicate much at all. two mothers, with their perfectly tiny two year olds speaking in perfect two year old babble, queried, “goodness…how old is THAT one?” “barely two”, I responded calmly. silence, then the….”ohhhhh.” you could feel their relief – was it for me? – that this child was just tall/large for their age and not some terribly backward three or four year old. this was an all too common experience in my life as a young mother.

    perhaps there are those who boast of their 90% percentile child and are dismissive of those who are less, but as a parent of three – well above the 99% percentile – children, i encountered the opposite reaction. i always looked at those – like you – with the smaller children as lucky to have more normal sized babies and toddlers…it took a few years to realize that size, in this case, really does not matter!

    i grew up in far simpler times. we played out-of-doors, wrote letters and got excited about a telephone call. we were divided into classes in high school according to our abilities, but it really wasn’t that big a deal. everyone i know went to college, some to harvard, yale and amherst, but some to regular old state schools or smaller private colleges. we are all now basically happy and doing our thing. in fact, my closest high school friend, who entered harvard at 16, says it did very little for her, except make people overly impressed when they found out from where she graduated. yes, she got a good education, if you count having TAs teach most of your classed for the first two years. at 43 she would make a different choice, and as mother of one highly intellectually gifted son and another completely normal, on track son, she struggles to keep a balanced perspective while those around her seem completely in awe of her son and all those great possibilities ahead of him.

    she and i agree we all have a path and if we stay true to ourselves, things usually work out. harvard or whatever…the education you get really depends on what you put into it.

    now days everyone wants their child to get into harvard or yale and they engage coaches so their child’s college ap will stand out among the madding crowd of applicants. i fear for my children. i have worked mightily to keep them as sheltered as i can, without making them freaks within their peer groups.

    i waited until each one was in first grade and settled before they could sign up for an after school activity…just one. in third grade they could add a second and learned to balance a sport and an instrument. they went to school, read a lot of books, played make believe, rode bikes and ran around outside. their friends were on more than one team and very busy every weekend. when my children said they were bored, i told them to go grab a book or get on their bike. now as teens/tween, they tell me often how glad they are that i was laid back and gave them a simple outlook and the ability to learn how to engage on their own.

    one of my children was placed in special ed gym (!!!) in elementary school…she was rather uncoordinated. now she is highly successful at her sport and is being recruited by colleges…it certainly wasn’t any extra special toy i bought that promised to teach her balance or coordination that got her where she is today. it was just plain old fashioned time and growing up into her body…and finding the right sport.

    what i want to instill in my children is a sense of being at peace with just living their lives…i do want them to be the best they can be, live up to their fullest potential, but not get lost in the new rat race of being a captain of industry or whatever.

  48. grace says:

    my town is filled with competitive parents…everywhere you turn they are there. it seems that only level one classes are acceptable in the high school and you find people are ashamed if their child must move down to level two…goodness knows you are a loser if you need a slower paced math class! GMAFB!

    all this trickles down to the children and teenagers…they become the diminutive of their parents, taking their parents’ views and making them their own.

    i had to laugh at your story at the pediatrician. i have had the exact opposite experience. as a mother of very large babies who have grown up, thus far, to be much taller than their peers, i endured the raised eyebrow and sideways glances of mothers who thought my children, especially the middle one, were more than a year older than they actually were- due to size – when they were toddlers…and therefore not terribly bright.

    many years ago we were waiting with other parents and their babies & toddlers, for my eldest to get out of nursery school. my, then, youngest had barely mastered the “normal” speech of two year olds and was walking around trying to talk to the other parents and children – a very social two year old – and was unable to really communicate much at all. two mothers, with their perfectly tiny two year olds speaking in perfect two year old babble, queried, “goodness…how old is THAT one?” “barely two”, I responded calmly. silence, then the….”ohhhhh.” you could feel their relief – was it for me? – that this child was just tall/large for their age and not some terribly backward three or four year old. this was an all too common experience in my life as a young mother.

    perhaps there are those who boast of their 90% percentile child and are dismissive of those who are less, but as a parent of three – well above the 99% percentile – children, i encountered the opposite reaction. i always looked at those – like you – with the smaller children as lucky to have more normal sized babies and toddlers…it took a few years to realize that size, in this case, really does not matter!

    i grew up in far simpler times. we played out-of-doors, wrote letters and got excited about a telephone call. we were divided into classes in high school according to our abilities, but it really wasn’t that big a deal. everyone i know went to college, some to harvard, yale and amherst, but some to regular old state schools or smaller private colleges. we are all now basically happy and doing our thing. in fact, my closest high school friend, who entered harvard at 16, says it did very little for her, except make people overly impressed when they found out from where she graduated. yes, she got a good education, if you count having TAs teach most of your classed for the first two years. at 43 she would make a different choice, and as mother of one highly intellectually gifted son and another completely normal, on track son, she struggles to keep a balanced perspective while those around her seem completely in awe of her son and all those great possibilities ahead of him.

    she and i agree we all have a path and if we stay true to ourselves, things usually work out. harvard or whatever…the education you get really depends on what you put into it.

    now days everyone wants their child to get into harvard or yale and they engage coaches so their child’s college ap will stand out among the madding crowd of applicants. i fear for my children. i have worked mightily to keep them as sheltered as i can, without making them freaks within their peer groups.

    i waited until each one was in first grade and settled before they could sign up for an after school activity…just one. in third grade they could add a second and learned to balance a sport and an instrument. they went to school, read a lot of books, played make believe, rode bikes and ran around outside. their friends were on more than one team and very busy every weekend. when my children said they were bored, i told them to go grab a book or get on their bike. now as teens/tween, they tell me often how glad they are that i was laid back and gave them a simple outlook and the ability to learn how to engage on their own.

    one of my children was placed in special ed gym (!!!) in elementary school…she was rather uncoordinated. now she is highly successful at her sport and is being recruited by colleges…it certainly wasn’t any extra special toy i bought that promised to teach her balance or coordination that got her where she is today. it was just plain old fashioned time and growing up into her body…and finding the right sport.

    what i want to instill in my children is a sense of being at peace with just living their lives…i do want them to be the best they can be, live up to their fullest potential, but not get lost in the new rat race of being a captain of industry or whatever.

  49. My parents’ philosophy was to encourage/indulge/support our interests, and I think they got it right. I was an automotive fanatic from birth, and so got lots and lots of model cars, car magazines, etc. Not a big surprise when I grew up to be an automotive journalist — and it turned out that everything I learned along the way was valuable intel for my work.

    In the last few weeks, I’ve purchased an interactive play kitchen for a 3-year-old nephew obsessed with cooking; a toy rocket for a science-mad 12-year-old nephew; and a bunch of Cars-related toys and books for a 1-year-old niece whose unbreakable focus when she watches that particular movie is astonishing.

    I couldn’t care less if any of it has scholastic or athletic merit. Whatever their interests, they’ll learn in play what they need for the schools and careers they choose. And maybe they’ll actually enjoy childhood…

  50. My parents’ philosophy was to encourage/indulge/support our interests, and I think they got it right. I was an automotive fanatic from birth, and so got lots and lots of model cars, car magazines, etc. Not a big surprise when I grew up to be an automotive journalist — and it turned out that everything I learned along the way was valuable intel for my work.

    In the last few weeks, I’ve purchased an interactive play kitchen for a 3-year-old nephew obsessed with cooking; a toy rocket for a science-mad 12-year-old nephew; and a bunch of Cars-related toys and books for a 1-year-old niece whose unbreakable focus when she watches that particular movie is astonishing.

    I couldn’t care less if any of it has scholastic or athletic merit. Whatever their interests, they’ll learn in play what they need for the schools and careers they choose. And maybe they’ll actually enjoy childhood…

  51. Gary Cohen says:

    Many years ago, I wrote in a magazine: Boys will be boys, is just the price of the toys that vary!.” Ann, great post. There seems to be an epidemic of these developmental stage icons/learnings or whatever they are packaged as. The more ratings included, the higher the justification of some of the prices. Worse still, is that my 9,6, and 3 year old are using some of this developmental language in their sales pitch to get some of these toys!

    To my 6 year old: “Where did you hear about hand/eye co-ordination?”

    “On TV Dad. That toy was on Nickelodeon. It really helps people learn things” Shoot me now!

    Seriously – THESE ARE TOYS! “Toy” – Thesaurus has “plaything” and “game” as two of its synonyms. Imaginative and creative play can happen without keeping up with the Jones’s – as can social skills.

    We spoke to our pediatrician when we were looking for a caregiver when my wife was about to go back to work and she said: “Find the warmest caregiver you can find who will take care of your child and make life fun for them. Through experiences they will learn and you want learning to be fun. A good hugger will come in handy also.” She emphasized interacting and sitting on the floor and playing and reading – all developmental stuff that our generation seemed to do fine with.

    I was blown away when we started seeing what you are talking about. And the price tags for nursery school/pre-k were no joke either – for a seemingly glorified playdate. And supposedly the higher the price the better the “education”? C’mon – we are talking about 2 and 3 year olds. And the programs have activities specially chosen for developmental reasons.

    40+ years ago I am sure I also played with blocks, climbed stairs, finger painted and played in a sand area. I just do not believe that back then it was rationalized as fine motor skill development and socialization programs to justify 5 figure fees for half days 3 mornings a week.

    Maybe it is time to run away and join the circus. Wrong words – this sounds like a circus already.

  52. Gary Cohen says:

    Many years ago, I wrote in a magazine: Boys will be boys, is just the price of the toys that vary!.” Ann, great post. There seems to be an epidemic of these developmental stage icons/learnings or whatever they are packaged as. The more ratings included, the higher the justification of some of the prices. Worse still, is that my 9,6, and 3 year old are using some of this developmental language in their sales pitch to get some of these toys!

    To my 6 year old: “Where did you hear about hand/eye co-ordination?”

    “On TV Dad. That toy was on Nickelodeon. It really helps people learn things” Shoot me now!

    Seriously – THESE ARE TOYS! “Toy” – Thesaurus has “plaything” and “game” as two of its synonyms. Imaginative and creative play can happen without keeping up with the Jones’s – as can social skills.

    We spoke to our pediatrician when we were looking for a caregiver when my wife was about to go back to work and she said: “Find the warmest caregiver you can find who will take care of your child and make life fun for them. Through experiences they will learn and you want learning to be fun. A good hugger will come in handy also.” She emphasized interacting and sitting on the floor and playing and reading – all developmental stuff that our generation seemed to do fine with.

    I was blown away when we started seeing what you are talking about. And the price tags for nursery school/pre-k were no joke either – for a seemingly glorified playdate. And supposedly the higher the price the better the “education”? C’mon – we are talking about 2 and 3 year olds. And the programs have activities specially chosen for developmental reasons.

    40+ years ago I am sure I also played with blocks, climbed stairs, finger painted and played in a sand area. I just do not believe that back then it was rationalized as fine motor skill development and socialization programs to justify 5 figure fees for half days 3 mornings a week.

    Maybe it is time to run away and join the circus. Wrong words – this sounds like a circus already.

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