Education Quandary

'I am a pushy mum. I know children need time, but I am terrified of mine slipping behind'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

These children do numerous activities a week, and have extra tuition. It is easy to be censorious - and, interestingly, a lot of this week's respondents were men who wanted to condemn this mother for her frantic family round. But anyone who has brought up children in today's striving climate knows all about this kind of pressure. Other children are being exposed to a lot of opportunities. How can you wilfully close off any avenues for yours? Other children are getting help with French, maths, science.... Are you handicapping yours by expecting them to go it alone?

Take a deep breath and try to look at the long view. The children who succeed in later life will be those who know themselves well and are comfortable with who they are. They will be self-motivated and deeply interested in the things they have chosen to take an interest in. They will direct their own lives, and not always be looking for gold stars and applause from other people for everything that they do. Coming top won't be what motivates them; aiming for their own personal best will.

Vow to make your children's week less frenetic. You owe it to them. Promise yourself that you'll spend much less time driving them here and there, and much more time doing things together. Limit television and computer time and get them out into the fresh air more often. Allow them to be bored, and allow them more time to play with friends. Take the pressure off - it might be hard, but just do it anyway - and you'll see a difference immediately.

Readers' advice

In my sixties, with a PhD in biochemistry and with a list of other qualifications as long as your arm, I realise that the real me was formed while I was walking in the fields with my butterfly net, watching the sky at night through a telescope, and making home-made fireworks. If children have that spark within them, they don't need to be pushed into a whole series of activities. They need time and freedom to discover themselves.
Michael Baldwin, Kent

So many of us have felt these pressures, and so few are honest enough to admit it. It sometimes helps to focus on the interest and pleasure that an achievement can lead to, rather than the immediate triumph. "You've swum a length/got your grade four violin/done well in French? Great! Now you can swim in the deep end/join the orchestra/have more fun when we go to France." (Instead of "Great! You were the first in your group/And Amy's still on grade three/You'll get an A*"). Getting ahead, coming out top are treacherous pleasures, always liable to disappointment; delight in a subject or an activity can last a lifetime.
Jane Darwin, London SW7

Well done for admitting it. Ever since our children went to primary school my wife has pushed them like this. She enrols them for everything that any other child is doing, and wants them to have a tutor in order to get them into the right secondary school. I say that they need to have a childhood, but she says that I don't understand just how competitive things are now. We argue, but it only makes things worse.
Name and address withheld

Next week's quandary

We are two girl primary school pupils who sit on our school council. We get asked about our ideas on school dinners and what equipment we would like in the playground, but nothing we say seems to make any difference. What can we do to make the school take us seriously and get pupils more power?

Send letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack

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