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Child Psychologist & Speaker Promotes Parenting Approach Valued in Montessori Schools

By April 17, 2018Uncategorized

Princeton CommonGround hosted Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D., consultant, author and psychologist specializing in children and families. Dr. Thompson spent a very busy day in Princeton.  Prior to his evening lecture, Dr. Thompson visited Princeton Montessori School for a parent discussion on childhood social issues and the role of the parent in relation to these common issues.  His interactive lecture was based on his book, Best Friends, Worst Enemies.” Attendees learned about the appropriate parenting role in the development and challenges of childhood friendships.  Dr. Thompson’s advice to parents was in alignment with the Montessori approach to parenting.

At a meeting held early in the day for Heads and Directors, Michael Thompson suggested that even parents who choose an alternative school like Montessori in an effort to avoid a stressful environment, become scared they are missing out on opportunities once they reach elementary school, and end up in the same pressured schools they earlier resisted.  Dr. Thompson said parents need to “hold their ground” and be courageous in the face of peer pressure, and resist getting into “the race.”

The evening lecture, “The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life,” was held at Princeton Day School. Many staff and parents attended and shared feelings and concerns of causing stress in their children and also concern that just the society at large creates the stress, even when the family tries to combat it.

Below are a few takeaways from the meeting from the notes of teacher, Anjum Khan:

Main point – parents too often tend to aim for things that are important to THEM, not to their children.  

Three causes of stress in students today:

  1. college expectations of parents
  2. Over-scheduling
  3. lack of free, undirected play

Dr. Thompson said that from a child’s perspective, school is not a preparation for life. Children are living now, and live “in the moment.”  At a young age, they’re not interested in the future, especially not college until the high school years.  So when their parents are hyper-focused on the future, the kids stop listening. The most important thing for most children is friendships. His advice to parents was, “don’t talk to young children about college; it means nothing to them!  Kids shouldn’t be thinking about these things – it distorts their experience!”  Focus more on the NOW.

Dr. Thompson pointed out that the view of teens and school is not the adult view – it is survival, not a competition.  Surviving the current homework assignment, class, quiz, and test; that’s what its about. Same as it was for parents when they were students, only more so now in the high pressure, high stakes environment of many schools. Dr. Thompson pointed out that in every single school, the demographics are such that 50% of the kids are in the bottom half of the class, because it’s statistically impossible for all of them to be in the top half.  He noted that parents need to realize there is very little upward mobility in these demographics; most kids cannot jump ahead from bottom half to top 10%. It’s unrealistic to expect this of kids. He stated that parents should “find another way to think about their child’s success.”

To illustrate the best way to be supportive of your child, Dr. Thompson provided a metaphor of watching a track coach run with his students just a step behind them rather than far ahead.  The point, he said, is to run not ahead to pressure the students to over extend and not so far behind that they could not feel the coach’s encouraging presence. He encouraged all parents to do the same, run a quarter step behind our children – “to be a presence in their lives, to have expectation but give support.” He reminded us that their journey is theirs, not ours, and the pace should be set by them, with us encouraging them to do their best, not someone else’s best.

Dr. Thompson’s final thoughts, before he left for the night, was to say that ‘all-in’ devoted parents believe that their presence always adds value. This isn’t always true; in fact, too much of our presence robs our kids of their independence. “If it’s too much, they either push us back or they step back,”. Instead, he advised parents to prepare their child for the path rather than preparing the path for their child.

If you missed this presentation you can watch the video here.

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