Wanting the best for your child but not pushing them too hard can be a difficult balancing act for a parent, especially if that parent happens to be a perfectionist themselves.
But a new report from Macquarie University’s Centre for Emotional Health makes it clear that the more parents ‘back-off’ from pushing their children, the better the outcomes for the child.
Professor Jennifer Hudson, lead researcher for the report published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology says that perfection parenting involves focussing on the dire consequences of something not being perfect.
“It’s parenting that focuses on mistakes and getting things exactly right, rather than just going with the flow.”
The study showed that, regardless of kids’ anxiety levels in the first place, children performed better in a homework exercise if the parenting behaviour was more relaxed.
“As parents, we all want to help and support our children as much as possible but it has to be the right type of support.
“Perfection parenting can cause significant stress and anxiety in children.”
Professor Hudson says the anxiety levels of many of the children she and her colleagues talk with at the Centre for Emotional Health are caused by perfectionist parents.
“Their parent watches over them while they do their homework, or go to ballet class or soccer training and wants everything to be exactly right.
“But that’s not good for the mental health of the child, nor is it getting the best outcome,” says Professor Hudson.
“A child under this type of parenting is always checking and re-checking, correcting themselves – sometimes to the point that they procrastinate and take too long to make decisions.
“This is when perfectionism becomes dysfunctional. Unfortuantely, parents who are perfectionists don’t always recognise they are like this, or that they’re passing on this behaviour and high anxiety levels to their children.”
She said parents can help children more by being available and providing support.
“Don’t demand perfection. Watch the messages you send your child. Focus on the effort.
“It’s one thing to encourage them to do the best possible, it’s another to tell them that only being perfect is good enough and then suggesting that if they’re not, they are a failure.”
“The fact is we all make mistakes. It’s an important part of how we learn, and if parents don’t allow their children to make mistakes, they’re not going to learn and they’re going to be anxious and stressed.”
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* You can find out more at the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University. The report was co-authored byJennifer H. Mitchell, Suzanne Broeren, Carol Newall, Jennifer L. Hudson.