By Tim Middleton
Trevor Noah, the hugely popular stand-up comedian and television show host, tells an amusing story about his mother in one of his comedy shows. When he was offered the much sought-after position as host of the Today Show he phoned his mother back in South Africa to tell her the exciting news. He was a little taken aback when she did not show more of an excited reaction; this was, after all, a massive opportunity for him. In effect, she was saying, “That’s nice, dear!” while he was expecting massive congratulations. His disappointment was magnified, he shared, when she announced in the next breath to say how excited she was that her other son had just been made a prefect at school — being a prefect at school eclipsed getting one of the biggest jobs on television!
Now we may well look at that as an example of how parents can all too easily over-emphasise the significance of a child being a Prefect at school — and that is an important point to make. That though is for another article! We have seen in a previous article that many parents come out at some stage with the line, “My child would never do that”, even though all the damning evidence shows clearly he just did do that! Conversely, though, many parents fall into an equally dangerous trap of saying something very similar: “My child could never do that.”
Perhaps can often speak down of their children, and what is worse, they often do so in front of them. Some parents are prone to say that their child will never get to university or be any good at a subject or sport; they will never achieve anything in life; they will not this and not that. Of course, a parent might argue that in saying “My child could never do that” he is in fact taking pressure off the child, not putting too great an expectation on the child, yet all too often the child will take the parent literally and therefore not even bother to try, when with a bit of effort, imagination, belief and opportunity he could do the seemingly-impossible task.
It may be that the parent himself failed to reach his own goals, but that is no reason to presume that his child will also fail. Conversely, it may be equally true that a parent has achieved his goals with great distinction but that is no reason to expect his child will want to, or be able to, do the same. Do they really know the potential of their child, in the present as well as in the future? Many a child has gone on to flourish later in life, maybe because they are unburdened by the doubts that their parents have placed on them.
We must never underestimate our child’s capability. A parent who may declare that his child could never do something may well only increase the likelihood that the child will indeed never do that. It becomes self-prophetic and in doing so it is pathetic. While the words “My child could never do that” may be the saddest that a parent might say, so too might the words uttered later in life by the child “I wish my dad could see me now” be the saddest words a man may say. We need to encourage our children sensibly and suitably, believing in their potential and their dreams (not our dreams for them), cajoling, supporting, assisting, upholding, inspiring them on their journey.
On another occasion, Trevor Noah shared how he was so excited to tell his mother that he had met the legendary Lionel Richie, whose music his mother loved, only to find that she appeared to gloss over it, which surprised him. One of Lionel Richie’s greatest hits was Say You, Say Me which had the lines, “I had a dream I had an awesome dream; People in the park playing games in the dark and what they played was a masquerade and from behind of walls of doubt a voice was crying out. Say you, say me it for always; Oh that’s the way it should be. Say you, say me say it together, naturally”. These words could be given to our children; we must remove the walls of doubt as they travel down “life’s lonesome highway”. The song goes on: “Well, the whole world has got you dancing; that’s right, I’m telling you, it’s time to start believing — oh yes, believing who you are. You are a shining star.” Now, those are powerful words! We must believe our child can be a shining star.
Trevor Noah has done far more in his life than his mother ever imagined — so might our children. Let us get them dancing, to their tune; believing, in their self. Then, watch; they will show you what they can do! So, come on, let us say it together — naturally!
- Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
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