It's healthy and normal to want to bring out the best in your child, but sometimes, parents place too much pressure on their kids and this is when the trouble begins.
Living up to a parent's high expectations can cause needless anxiety, frustration and stress, which may lead to resentment and rebellion. Sometimes, a child simply will give up because the pressure to achieve is too much to handle.
Setting high expectations for our children isn't necessarily a bad thing. Parents want their children to succeed, but when they get overly involved and set seemingly unachievable goals, your child may not be able to live up to these expectations. The result: your child can have nightmares, seek out underachieving friends, turn to drugs or even harm themselves.
Of course, you're not going to sit on the sidelines when your child is flunking math, but you also have to find that perfect balance between pushing too hard and providing support and encouragement. You want to be your child's biggest cheerleader. Your goal as a parent is to provide encouragement without causing more stress than your child can handle.
How do parents know if they are a pressure parent?
Do you feel anxious, mad or depressed when your child fails to meet your expectations in school or a sport? Instead, show interest, provide positive feedback and help your child learn to develop a strong work ethic.
Are you always providing negative feedback? Think of how your child feels when she comes home proudly announcing she got a B on a tough exam and you respond by asking why she didn't get an A. Your child feels as if she failed you. Remember to praise your kids. Don't set unrealistic expectations.
Are you making all of the decisions for your child? As parents, we get to set the rules and make many decisions for our kids, but when your child says he wants to play tennis when you have insisted on football, maybe it's time to step back and let your child make an independent decision. You also can consider a compromise.
What can happen if you place too much pressure on your child?
Higher rates of mental illness - kids who feel under constant pressure may experience constant anxiety and stress, which places them at greater risk of developing depression or other mental health issues.
Increased risk of suicide - studies have shown a link between attempted suicide and parental pressure. Approximately one in five of students evaluated contemplated suicide because their parents placed enormous pressure on them.
Self-esteem issues - pushing your child to excel damages self-esteem because the constant stress of needing to be perfect causes them to feel as if they are not good enough.
Increased likelihood of cheating - when the focus is on achieving rather than learning, kids may begin to cheat.
Refusing to participate - when kids feel parents expect them to the be the best, they are more likely to not try out for the sport or school activity because they fear they will let down their parents.
As a parent, what can you do to make sure you are not a pressure parent?
Check your own values. Are you forcing them on your child?
Be flexible with your expectations. Not everyone wants to go to college, for example.
Schedule some downtime with your child. Play games with your young children, fix an after school snack together or simply talk. Developing a relationship with your child at all ages, and understanding their personalities and natural strengths might keep you out of pressure parent mode.
Therapy may help in some situations. We are the neutral party. We can be an advocate for the child to help them negotiate with their parents.
Your job as a parent is to help your child become healthy, happy and productive.
Susan Ruma, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health. She has extensive experience counseling adolescents, individuals, couples and families. She is certified in trauma and loss counseling, and completed training in motivational interviewing. In her therapy sessions, she uses a strength-based approach as well as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Susan also has facilitated support groups with adults, parents and children using mindfulness exercises to manage anxiety and mood disorders. She specializes in helping individuals with depression, anxiety, mood disorders, co-dependence, self-esteem, self-injurious behaviors, family conflicts, parental guidance and LGBTQ relationships.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Susan, call The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health at 248.399.7447.
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