As adults, we can all remember hearing lectures from our parents and teachers about not giving into ‘peer pressure’, but for your children, sometimes the pressure isn’t coming from their peers. Oftentimes when a child or teen comes into a counseling office feeling overwhelmed, apathetic or angry, it is in some part due to an unhealthy amount of ‘parent pressure’.
Over the years I have been in discussions with counselors about the issues that teens most often face, and I have repeatedly walked away with the answer: Too much pressure from parents to achieve unachievable expectations.
So how do you know you’re ‘parent pressuring’ your child into anxiety and stress? Here are just a few possible signs I have seen in my work with children and teens over the years:
1. Rules without Relationship = Rebellion- If you find your child overtly or subtly rebelling against your every move, constantly pushing against your standards, it may be that they are just trying to make some breathing room.
2. Apathy- The flight response to feeling overwhelmed is to give up. If your child ‘use to be’ a straight A student but now barely does their homework, you may be seeing them fleeing the threat of overwhelming pressure.
3. Sleeplessness- Not always, but sometimes, children and teens react to the stress of parent pressure by being unable to fall asleep, their mind constantly racing as they try to find a way to achieve all the spoken and unspoken expectations.
4. Angry Outbursts- Likerebellion, if it seems your child is over-reacting to you, you might want to check out what expectations they feel coming from you. Often, anger is a natural reaction to feeling the shame of failure.
5. Taking it Personally- Who gets more upset about your child’s mistakes, you or them? If you find yourself feeling shame or hurt when your child messes up on a test, doesn’t make the team or fails a homework assignment, then you are most definitely putting mounds of pressure on them to ‘succeed’.
6. Dividing your Marriage- If you find yourself consistently fighting or fussing with your spouse about your child’s achievements or lack thereof, then you are most likely holding up lofty and unattainable expectations for them to meet.
7. No Time for Free Time- Teens and children often complain about never having enough time to ‘just be a kid’ when they feel a never-ending amount of stuff to get done. I have written before about the absolute necessity of free-time for a child’s development and creativity. Make sure you aren’t overscheduling for success.
8. Comparison- Theodore Roosevelt once said that ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’ When we compare our kids to their peers, siblings or to ourselves, we often steal from them the joy of being themselves.
9. Watch Your Praise- When you praise your child, when are you doing so? Do you only praise them when they ‘succeed’ or accomplish some task? If they only feel affirmed when they accomplish something, then they will base their worth in their merit and achievements. Which means that when they fail, they believe they are a failure.
Now please don’t get me wrong. Parents need to ‘push’ their children. What I would like for you to consider is what are you pushing them towards? When you know where you are ‘pushing’ them, you have a better chance of being a helpful guide. Here are a few questions to help you think through what type of expectations you are putting on your child.
First, how would you define success? One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, put it this way: “There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.”
Second, what would you say are your child’s natural assets, strengths and gifts? What makes them uniquely who they are? I would encourage you to spend more time affirming this than in giving them praise for accomplishments and activities.
It is in our validation that our children come to know themselves. Many college students seek out ways to ‘find themselves’. You, as their parent, are their greatest guide, the one who can know them more deeply than anyone else. Share with them what makes them who they are and save them some of the trouble of weeding through all that they are not.
Third, what does time spent with your child look like? Are you being with them, or just for them? It is a great thing to be a parent who supports their child by showing up to their events, but that alone it is not enough. Your child needs time ‘with’ you, where you actively seek to get to know them, enjoy and delight in them. It is every child’s greatest desire to know that they are delighted in and deeply valued by their parents.
Finally, what are you doing with your own stress? So much of the pressure we put on our children is pressure we feel on ourselves. If you find yourself overwhelmedand overstressed, spend time working through it and letting go. Take a minute to breathe. You don’t have to give your kid everything, consistent love and affirmation will be plenty.
By Branden Henry