Under Pressure: The Importance of Teaching a Child That No One is Perfect
A perfect report card. A flawless sports performance. Countless hours spent volunteering, practicing and studying. Parents expect a lot out of kids today, frequently putting unrealistic pressures on them to excel at practically everything they do.
A perfect report card. A flawless sports performance. Countless hours spent volunteering, practicing and studying. Parents expect a lot out of kids today, frequently putting unrealistic pressures on them to excel at practically everything they do. But often these pressures come from kids themselves, creating unnecessary stress and anxiety from a young age. “There are some teachers and parents who push kids to be their most competitive selves possible or else they may feel their lives are ruined—but others are simply stressed out all on their own,” explains Ann Lagges, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
On the other hand, as anyone who’s ever had to deal with a deadline well knows, sometimes a little bit of pressure can be a great motivator. “You really want that sweet spot—you need some pressure to get the job done, but not so much that it creates anxiety,” adds Lagges. So, how do you walk the line between motivating your child and making sure she’s not being too hard on herself? Try these strategies.
1. Realize that all pressure isn’t bad. “Some kids need a strong push to display even minimal effort while others are content with being middle-of-the-pack and some are already pushing themselves too hard,” says Lagges. “The key is to know your child and realize what type of motivation he or she will best respond to.”
2. Teach your child to know himself. “If you have a kid who is already worried about getting into college because he just got a ‘B’ instead of all As, you need to let him know that he’s doing just fine,” says Lagges. “When a teacher or guidance counselor gives blanket statements about how everyone has to work harder or study more, tell him that advisor isn’t talking to him.”
3. Learn to take it easy. We know kids are chronically overscheduled, so emphasize the importance of downtime—and make sure that time is unstructured. “Part of the problem today is that some kids don’t know how to do anything that’s not goal-oriented,” notes Lagges. “It’s important to occasionally take it down a notch so not everything is geared toward a specific achievement. Your kid needs to know he doesn’t have to be on 24-7.”
4. Have fun as a family. Try doing something as a group that you haven’t done before—bonus points if it’s something you expect to all be bad at, advises Lagges. “Try taking a painting class even if you’re not artistic, or do a fitness activity that no one has done before, like stand up paddling.” The emphasis should be on spending time together, not competing with each other or against others.
5. Think Long term.
6. Know when to get help. Normal stress is part of growing up, but when it starts to interfere with your child’s everyday behavior or cause physical or emotional distress, it’s time to get help. “If your child is not sleeping or eating well, or his physical health starts to deteriorate or you see mood changes like crying spells or angry outbursts, these are all signs that pressure is getting too high,” says Lagges. Talk to your school’s guidance counselor or your pediatrician about what else you can do to help. “Stepping in early can help reduce some of the tension and help your kids get through a potentially difficult time.”
-- By Alyssa Shaffer