This article first appeared in the August 2006 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
Parents naturally want their children to be the best, whether in academics or extra-curricular activities —- or both! Young kids especially find happiness in pleasing their parents, and would do almost anything to garner their approval -— from doing simple chores and creating pretty artwork, to accomplishing more ambitious feats like winning in sports or beauty pageants. But how far can we push our little ones without breaking their spirit or setting them up for disappointment?
“Over-competitive parents have a lot of expectations [from] the child,” describes pediatrician and child psychologist Joseph Regalado, M.D. “They are more particular with good grades and performance than with how happy the child is going through schooling or joining an activity.” For instance, some parents are still not satisfied when a child receives a grade of 90, expecting instead the perfect 100. These are parents who see mistakes as unacceptable. Pointing fingers at who is to blame for the “failure” of their child becomes their means to rectifying the situation, ignoring the possibility that there are other factors and variables at play. According to Regalado, the worst scenario is when explanations are sought from the children, who may not always know why they performed below expectation.
Why would parents demand so much from their children? Below are some reasons:
1. Family background. Continuing the family “legacy” is important for many parents. Marivic Racho, guidance counselor at South Crest School in Muntinlupa, points out, “If you come from a family of doctors, chances are, [you will be expected] to become one, too, regardless of your capacity or [inclination].” Regalado adds that when 1 or both parents are achievers, they don’t see any reason for their talents not to manifest themselves in their children.
2. Economic stress. Racho acknowledges, “Some average-income earners force kids to excel beyond their abilities so they can avail of scholarship grants and minimize the cost of schooling in their budget.”
3. Children owe it to them. Many parents think that the formula to their children’s success is to provide them with everything, explains Regalado. “And since everything is given, there is no reason why they cannot excel.”
4. “If her child can do it, why can’t mine?” Hearing parents boast about their kid’s success causes other parents to feel envy and even self-doubt. Because they feel this way, parents then put more pressure on their kid.
ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
Effects on children According to Regalado, there is a constructive side to instilling competitiveness: Children tend to strive more and see for themselves what they are really capable of.
Racho mentions financial gain as another advantage: “If your child performs well, he can be awarded scholarship grants and get good offers when he reaches high school or college levels.” Prestige and popularity come with the territory, too, because “the ability of the child shines.”
Though instilling competitiveness in our children has its benefits, both experts agree that potential negative ramifications outweigh the positive. The following are some of them:
1. Children become misguided. “When the pressure is [too] much, the child no longer sees knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge as [goals],” emphasizes Regalado. “The grade has become the premium whether or not she learns anything [that is of value to her].” Also, the child becomes an unfriendly competitor.
2. Children can get easily frustrated. Children under great pressure become very unhappy with 1 or 2 little mistakes. They may start blaming themselves for the slightest setback. They may start having sleepless nights. They will take every mistake or failure as the “end of it all.” This kind of mindset, where personal worth is measured by grades, accolades, and other quantifiable achievements, can be detrimental to their self-perception.
3. Children become fearful. With expectations set high, children may fear punishment from their parents every time they fall short. Regalado points out that if children have difficulty in certain subjects or areas, they need support and guidance early on. But since they are afraid, of “disappointing” their parents, they will not come out and say, “I am having a hard time understanding this.” Nothing is resolved, no course of action is taken.
This fear of failure also translates itself into children’s unwillingness to take risks, to explore, or to try something new, thus stunting their development.
4. Children develop over-dependence on parents. Children under tremendous pressure from their parents are usually unable to think for themselves. How happy they are with their achievements depends on how happy mom and dad are. They feel that their parents must approve every move they make.
5. Children become socially isolated. Constant bragging of parents about their children to others may not always be graciously received. This may even create a wall between the child and other people he interacts with. Racho calculates that a child may develop either an unhealthy superiority or inferiority complex. The feeling of being better than everybody else, because a child was constantly drilled that he or she is, can result in ostracism by peers. Similarly, feeling inferior to others may cause children to retreat into their shells.
ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
6. Children measure self-worth with achievements. When children hear their parents comparing them with others, it only translates to 2 messages: either “Mommy and Daddy love me because I am perfect,” or “They say I’m not as good as the other kids.” Thus, the need to succeed arises, but only to satisfy the desire to be accepted and be loved. Before anyone notices, what begins as self-doubt escalates into serious anxiety, which can lead to more serious problems such as power struggles, eating disorders, and depression, even at a very young age.
Children need to know that they will be loved whether or not they receive accolades. Preschoolers, in particular, should be guided more on mastering age-appropriate skills that will serve as their foundation for later learning, not on reaping awards or medals. The universal rights of children include not only the right to have food, shelter, and education, but the right to play as well. Therefore, “it is important that parents find ways for children to also relax and have fun,” concludes Regalado.
Be confident of your children’s lead: Let them learn at their own pace, and be there to hold their hand when they need it. Keep in mind that accomplishments in infancy, toddler years, and preschool years do not necessarily predict a child’s success in adulthood. Just as parents do best, love and accept your children for who they are. Allow them to be themselves and hit that road the way they see it. Each child is unique. Respect their ways of learning, growing, and thinking. Ultimately, children’s true measure of greatness depends on the guidance and values their parents give them.