The performing and visual arts present unique opportunities and challenges, posing both an important step in developing children’s creativity and a way for parents to accidentally fall into toxic “stage parent” tendencies. What does navigating this look like? We tapped David Katzner, president and general partner at the National Parenting Center, for advice.
The Basic Steps
“During the elementary school years, and perhaps even to junior high, the best [step] that a parent can take is to expose a child to as many different disciplines as possible; don’t concentrate and push into one direction,” explains Katzner. “Be aware and alert to what’s really capturing their attention…and then, if they want to take it a step further, when they get into high school, that’s when you can start [to hone in on a certain skill].”
In addition, Katzner discourages parents from sharing negative criticism on early childhood creations or performances. “I don’t think it’s really the place for the parent to be the critic, especially at a young age. It’s all encouragement,” he concludes. As children grow and parents want to pose new or alternative ideas, they can do so in gentle ways—i.e. “Let’s do another one for Grandma, and maybe let’s add in new colors this time,” to allow the child to see for themselves how different ideas can create new (perhaps better) outcomes.
Spotting the Stage Parent Inside of You—and What to Do
If you’re a “stage parent,” you’re probably “focused too heavily on one particular discipline” for young children, explains Katzner.
It’s normal to want children to succeed, but, explains Katzner, if parents realize they’re the culprit of putting pressure and anxiety on their little ones, they need to find out what is causing this compulsive
need. He recommends parents take a step back to check in with their partners, friends, family members, etc. to see if others have noticed any “stage parenting” behavior, as it can be easy to get caught up in the busy schedule of rehearsals or classes.
Katzner also encourages parents to actively monitor themselves. “You’ve got to be able to step back every so often…to assess ‘How is this going? Am I pleased with the direction that it’s going?’” If not, why is it that parents are noticing they are placing an inappropriate amount of pressure on their children? “Are they doing it because of societal expectations or their group of friends?” If so, Katzner encourages parents to think more creatively. “Every parent needs to understand that [they can] parent in their own way. You don’t want your child [copying others]—same with parenting!”
Children, he notes, will also reveal the truth. If parents pay attention, their children’s body language and voice can clue others into how excited they are (not how excited the parent is!) about artistic activities.
Important General Reminders
“We always tell parents that there’s a lot of anxiety around parenting—that it’s, ‘Oh, I have to be perfect, everything has to be just right,’” acknowledges Katzner. “One of the mantras here at the National Parenting Center is: relax and enjoy your child.” Great advice on any parenting topic. After all, they grow up so quickly.