Pressure on Children to Perform

What do we want for our children? When asked this question, most parents would respond with, “happiness.” While that is true, sometimes our actions indicate that what we really want for our kids is nothing more or less than success. This equates to succeeding in school, sports, activities, engaging people, communication, and in many other areas. The pressure on children today is heavy and, frankly, exhausting. In an era where the term “soccer mom” is the norm, parents have adopted a hyper-vigilance regarding their children’s academic, extracurricular, and social lives. While well-intentioned, this outlook and behavior can be damaging to both a growing body and a young mind.

There is a huge difference between parental encouragement and parental pressure. If pushed too strongly, a child is more likely to suffer from issues such as low confidence and self-esteem. These negative emotions lead to withdrawal and sullenness, damaging the family structure and bond. We do not want our children questioning their own intelligence and talents. After all, they will face such constraints from others during their growth and need to be secure in their parents’ support and good opinion. We need to show our kids that we are not just in their corner…we are also their biggest fans.

Parental pressure affects not only a child’s emotional well-being. There are physical ramifications as well. Being pushed and hounded affects sleep and dampens mood, comprehension, and overall attitude. A study from Arizona State University showed that children who faced relentless pressure from their parents to succeed were twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as those who were pressured less.

When parents become obsessed or overly focused on high achievement, their relationship with their child suffers. While a parent may be that proverbial soccer mom or dad, chauffeuring hither and yon, attending practices, games, and recitals, they may not be spending actual quality time with their child. Our children change and grow so quickly! It is imperative to put that time into truly knowing them…laugh with them, converse with them, exchange ideas and random thoughts with them. The push-pull relationship of pressuring and receiving resistance can result in a coldness between the parent and child.

From the moment my daughter entered preschool, I was told that she was quite intelligent, but was a daydreamer. She had problems with focusing on the task at hand. She was in her own world, despite efforts to gain her attention. This continued through elementary school and farther, where she would receive awards such as “Most Creative,” yet often lost track of what she should be doing at the moment. I am thankful that we worked with her teachers to encourage her focus, instead of berating her constantly. At seventeen, she is a talented artist, writer, and musician. If she had been subjected to constant pressure, would she have developed such a lovely spirit, or would we have crushed it instead?

Ultimately, we want to instill into our children a positive sense of self-worth. Without it, being pressured to succeed in an activity will cause the child to become defined by his or her ability to perform. We need to show them that we love them for who they are, not for what they can do.

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