Children become over self-critical or depressed when parents are too involved in children's life and over-react on their mistakes
The extent to which parents respond to their children’s need set the tone for their personality in future. Expecting good academic performance from children and helping them excel in school is a positive attitude but pushing them too hard for good grades or overreacting when a child doesn’t live up to the expectations can lead to unwanted consequences.
A new research suggests that too much involvement from parents can make their children overly self-critical, or anxious or depressed.
“When parents become intrusive in their children's lives, it may signal to the children that what they do is never good enough. As a result, the child may become afraid of making the slightest mistake and will blame himself or herself for not being 'perfect'. Over time, such behavior, maladaptive perfectionism, may be detrimental to the child’s well being as it increases the risk of the child developing the symptoms of depression, anxiety and even suicide in very serious cases.” Ryan Hong, professor at National University of Singapore and lead author of the study said.
For the study, researchers involved seven-year old children from 10 schools in Singapore as well as one of their parents. The study was intended to examine two aspects of maladaptive perfectionism in children: self-criticalness, when children become overly concerned about their mistakes and imperfections; and socially prescribed perfectionism, when other people have unrealistic high expectations of a child.
The parental intrusiveness was assessed using a game played by the child where he/she had to solve some puzzles within a time limit and parents were told they could help their child whenever necessary. Parent’s interference both required and unnecessary with the child’s problem solving attempts reflected their overall intrusive behavior. Researchers also note down signs of maladaptive perfectionism and self-criticalness in each child. For follow up assessments, similar tests were carried out with kids and parents in subsequent years as well.
Analysis of the data collected from 263 children over 5-year study period showed that about 60 percent of them had high or increasing levels of self-criticalness, while 78 percent of children exhibited symptoms of high socially prescribed perfectionism.
“Our findings indicate that in a society that emphasizes academic excellence, which is the situation in Singapore, parents may set unrealistically high expectations on their children. As a result, a sizable segment of children may become fearful of making mistakes,” said Prof. Hong. “Also, because they are supposed to be ‘perfect,’ they can become disinclined to admit failures and inadequacies and seek help when needed, further exacerbating their risk for emotional problems.”
So, what can parents do to encourage rather than adding undue pressure on their children?
Researchers believe that parents should have high yet realistic expectations of their child in the first place. Secondly, they should be mindful of their behavior and not try ot push their children over the edge. Minimal changes during interaction can lead to major positive outcomes and boost the confidence of their child.
“One small practical tip might be the way we ask our children about their academic performance. For instance, instead of asking, "Did you get full marks on your test?.” Parents can try asking. “How did you do on your test?”, said Hong.
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The former question conveys a message to the child that he or she is expected to get full marks on the test while the second question does not convey such a message.”