Are You Putting Too Much Pressure On Your Kids to Do Well in School?
As a K-8 School Counselor, a significant number of students are referred to me with symptoms of anxiety, some of whom report that they feel enormous pressure from their parents to excel in school and get “perfect” grades.
One parent verified this when she told me she expected nothing less than a score of 97 from her middle school child.
Unfortunately, instead of increasing motivation in these children, the pressure to excel led to panic attacks, eating disorders, depression, and decreased motivation in school.
So, how do you know if you’re putting too much academic pressure on your kids? And if so, what do you do about it?
You’re probably a “Pressure Parent” if:
1. You react emotionally when your child doesn’t meet your academic expectations.
If you find yourself feeling angry with your child about his academic performance, you may be setting the bar unrealistically high and taking his behavior personally.
The way to set expectations is by looking at who your child is, not who you wish him to be. When you react emotionally, your child loses the opportunity to understand his own feelings about school because he’s too busy protecting himself from yours. Remain calm and connected, and adjust your expectations to meet his current capabilities.
2. You focus on the negative.
Rather than focusing on the 5% your child got wrong and using shame as a motivator, focus on the 95% he got right — and use encouraging phrases such as, “Your studying really paid off!” or “You must feel so proud of yourself.”
Instead of, “Why did you get these three wrong?” try, “13 out of 16 right? Way to go!” If she does really poorly, ask her what she could do the next time to improve. When you’re loving and compassionate, you allow her to feel safe enough to keep trying.
3. You’ve already decided that your child will attend college. You may have even decided which one.
In The Conscious Parent, Dr. Shefali Tsabary writes,
“…when we set a trajectory for our children’s education, romantic life, or career, we immediately limit who they can develop into. They have the power to manifest realities we haven’t even begun to imagine. It’s not for us to endorse a medical career over an acting career, a marriage at twenty or a marriage at thirty – or even a marriage at all…Let your children want to attend a fancy school, then work hard for it, rather than you being the one who wants it for them.”
We live in a world where college degrees can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and don’t guarantee any kind of success or job security. I’m not saying college isn’t a an optimal choice, but many people are hugely successful without ever going to college at all. Below is a list of ten of them:
a. Rachael Ray, celebrity chef, talk show host
b. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Records, Virgin Mobile and other Virgin brands
c. Wolfgang Puck, celebrity chef and restaurant owner
d. Simon Cowell, TV producer
e. Steve Madden, shoe designer
f. Richard Schulze, founder of Best Buy
g. Marcus Loew – founder of Loews theatres and co-founder of MGM movie studios
h. Julie Andrews!!!
i. David Karp – creator of Tumblr, now the 9th-most visited site in the United States
j. Daniel Ek – co-founder of Spotify
4. You compare your children academically.
If an older sibling did really well in school, you assume the younger one should do just as well. But every child is different. Embrace each child’s strengths. Celebrate their talents and abilities, even when they're different from your own.
5. You nag about getting homework done.
Your continuous urging doesn’t seem to help. In fact, it makes things worse. Rather than nagging your kid, help him develop good study habits. While you’re not responsible for actually doing his homework, you are responsible for providing the best environment for his learning, for giving him some structure, and for lending emotional support.
Make sure he has a quiet, comfortable place to study routinely…if it’s not your house, it could be at school, the public library, or even a neighbor’s house. If lack of focus is an issue, check out Focus At Will, a neuroscience-based music service that helps you focus, reduce distractions, and retain information when working, studying, writing and reading. My kids and I love it so much I became an affiliate!
6. You pay your child for good grades.
You can't expect to give external rewards and get intrinsic motivation. It just doesn't work. Kids who are paid for good grades don't enjoy learning for learning's sake. There has to be money in it for them or they won't even try. This also promotes cheating or giving up entirely when a subject doesn't come naturally.
7. You’re over-involved in your child’s studying.
Homework is your child’s responsibility. When you don’t allow children to do it themselves and risk failing, you’re actually sending a message that you think they’re incompetent or incapable of handling challenges. They internalize this message and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Working hard and mastering schoolwork themselves gives kids a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, which in turn leads to increased motivation.
In The Gift of Failure, Jessica Lahey writes,
“If parents back off the pressure and anxiety over grades and achievement and focus on the bigger picture—a love of learning and independent inquiry—grades will improve and test scores will go up.
Children of controlling and directive parents are much less able to deal with intellectual and physical challenges than peers who benefit from parents who stand back and allow their children to try, and fail, and try again. Furthermore, the failure our children experience when we back off and allow them to make their own mistakes is not only a necessary part of learning; it’s the very experience that teaches them how to be resilient, capable, creative problem-solvers.”
The point is that we need to focus on raising good people, not just good students. We need to convey to our kids that they’re valuable and worthy of our love and attention no matter what, whether they get a zero or a 100. And we need to foster responsibility and motivation by giving them responsibility, supporting their natural talents, abilities, and interests, and encouraging them to try – even though they might mess up – because that’s precisely how we learn and grow.
Did you grow up feeling pressured to do well in school? How did it feel? What was the ultimate outcome? Are you putting too much pressure on your own kids? Leave a comment below and let me know.
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