Parents say the Darnedest Things

by Early Math Counts

What do you when parents either a) brag about their children or b) harshly criticize their children?

I was thinking about this the other day when I realized that both of these behaviors are deeply cultural.  Although, there are probably braggarts and criticizers from all over the world and from all walks of life, there are specific behaviors that might not be socially acceptable in several milieus. When it is the social norm to brag, then others too, will brag. When it is the cultural norm to downplay children’s accomplishments, others will do that as well.

So, I was talking to a mom about her child’s math abilities (it was my impression that her son was quite the mathematician) and I was wondering if he was planning to continue studying math at college.  She immediately dismissed any notion that he was in any way skilled at math saying, “He is very average- quite average.”  I don’t think I would have interpreted a conversation about her son’s talents in math as being “bragging” but she certainly did.  It was clear that she did not feel comfortable speaking about her son’s successes and was quite willing to let me think that her son was “nothing special.”

I also had a friend who never had a nice thing to say about her kids.  She never complimented them publicly or privately (as far as I know) and criticized them relentlessly whenever she spoke about them.  I knew these children very well and they were delightful.  I never saw them as she did, and I don’t think anyone else did either.

More frequently, I encounter parents who are likely to brag about their children.  They wax poetic about everything their kids do, often to the point of unbelievability (I actually had a mother tell me once that her 2-year-old could read “Grey’s Anatomy”).  As a director and a teacher I smiled and usually said something like, “You must be so proud.” thinking, “Yikes, you are in for a rude awakening when these fantasies start unravelling.”

What are we to do when parents struggle with perspective about their kids?  Is it the job of the early childhood professional to help them see their children in relation to typical children? Do we provide solid evidence via our observations of their children that dispel their fantastical views or develop positive ones?

What do you think?

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