Can You Be Too Tough on Your Children?

Do kids have to be the best at everything they do? Unfortunately, some parents believe so. This belief can place a lot of undue stress on their children. While encouragement and motivation are important, is pushing kids too hard, particularly when it comes to school, more harmful than beneficial?

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Starting Young

In some cases, the push to succeed begins early in life. Some parents might try to get their kids to walk, talk or use the potty before they are quite ready.

Educational videos that teach counting or the alphabet are purchased long before children enter school. It's even not unheard-of for parents to start using flash cards on children who have hardly begun walking!

Even Kumon, an educational enrichment program, offers Junior Kumon for children under five. This program is designed to give toddlers a 'jump' in math and reading before they start kindergarten. But shouldn't kids be allowed time to be kids before they start academics?

The Stress to Be the Best

Once kids do start school, that's when the real pressure begins.

This could in part be due to the fact that the competition level rises. Classrooms become larger than the preschool one to which a child might be accustomed. There are more tests, more subjects and more kids with varying degrees of talents and abilities.

Thus, the reaction of some parents is to get their child involved in everything to ensure that no other kid has the 'upper hand'. The idea is to achieve success no matter what it takes.

For instance, some middle schools have begun offering Advanced Placement classes. These types of accelerated classes were once reserved for high schools. Now, middle schoolers are being pressured to enroll in such classes, which are more often than not pushed for by parents.

In some cases, parents believe their children are not challenged enough in 'regular' classes and push them into AP classes; however, not all students may be ready for such advanced work. The added pressure to succeed only creates more of an obstacle to success.

Pushing Beyond the Classroom

The push to succeed in school can usually spill over into other areas as well. A lot of people are likely familiar with the parent who screams at their kids from the sidelines at afterschool sporting events or practices, berating the child for the slightest mistake and demanding excellence on every play.

This, on top of high academic expectations, can simply be too much for some kids to handle.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Melanie Coughlin, who is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in California, told Psychology Today in January 2003: 'Parents think their kids will grow up and remember all the wonderful activities they were involved in.'

Instead, she says, they 'will remember how exhausted they were and how their parents were constantly yelling at them to hurry up and get ready for the next activity.'

Asking Too Much?

So what is the effect of all this pressure on our kids?

Fatigue is a common result. Agitation and depression can also become evident. Often, parents who push their kids too much have them overscheduled, which leaves little time for them to be with their friends, be creative or do some of the things they really enjoy doing.

In some cases, these overburdened children can develop antisocial behavior, becoming more withdrawn and rebellious as increased demands on their time and performance become too much to bear.

Dr. Alvin Rosenfield, author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, might have said it best when he told Psychology Today: 'Parents need to relax. Slow down. Research says that what children need most are relationships, not activities.'

And they also likely don't need to be pressured to succeed so much in school that instead they fall far short of their potential. Being too hard on your children can make it far too difficult for them to be themselves, learn at their own pace and grow to become the well-rounded and successful individuals every parent wants their child to become.

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