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Effects Of Perfectionism: How Intrusive Parenting Is Harmful To Children

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Pushing your kids to work hard in school in pursuit of good grades may be harmful to their health and could lead to unintended consequences, a new five-year study revealed.

This parenting style, which is known as intrusive or helicopter parenting, is characterized by "manipulative" parental behaviors and "psychological control," according to the book called Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents.

Other studies that examine maladaptive perfectionism often focus on college students and adolescents, but the new study shows the link between intrusive parenting and self-criticalness among young primary school kids.

And more often than not, intrusive parenting may leave a jarring mental and psychological scar.

How Intrusive Parenting Is Harmful To Kids

Researchers from the National University of Singapore found that kids with perfectionist or intrusive parents may be susceptible to anxiety and depression. Their tendency to become highly self-critical may increase over the years, they said.

Assistant Professor Ryan Hong, lead author of the study, says when parents hover above their children's lives, it may be a signal to the children that what they do is "never good enough."

Hong says that as a result, children may become afraid of making even the slightest mistake or blame herself or himself for being "not perfect."

Over time, this maladaptive perfectionism may be harmful to the youngster's well-being because it increases the risk of developing symptoms of anxiety, depression and even suicide in severe cases, says Hong.

Aspects Of Maladaptive Perfectionism

Hong and his colleagues investigated two aspects of perfectionism in children: self-criticalness perfectionism, in which the person is overly concerned with his or her imperfections and mistakes; and socially prescribed perfectionism, in which a person believes that others expect perfection from him or her.

Children aged 7 years old from 10 primary schools in Singapore were involved in the study, which lasted from 2010 to 2014. For each family, the parent more familiar to the child participated.

To assess the extent of intrusive parenting, researchers asked the families to play a game, with the kids accompanied by their respective parents.

In the game, kids had to solve puzzles within a time limit. Parents were told that they could help their child when they deemed necessary.

The purpose of the game is to observe whether or not parents interfered with the attempts of their children to solve the problem, regardless of the youngster's actual needs.

Researchers said that a highly intrusive parent would take over the game to retract a move made by his or her child.

Within the five-year study, Hong and his team observed both the parents and the children's behaviors. They identified the intrusive behavior exhibited by parents and assessed children at age 8, 9 and 11.

In the end, an analysis of 263 children in the study revealed that 60 percent of them had high self-criticalness, while 78 percent of them had high socially prescribed perfectionism. Both these aspects of maladaptive perfectionism tended to occur at the same time among 59 percent of the kids.

Hong says their findings suggest that in a society that underlines academic excellence, which is the condition in Singapore, parents may place unrealistically high expectations on their kids.

Because of that, he says a high number of children may become fearful of committing mistakes, and because they think they are supposed to be perfect, they can be disinclined to admit failures and seek help when they need it. This further exacerbates their risk for emotional problems.

What Parents Can Do

Hong says parents must be careful not to pressure their kids too hard to get high grades and that kids must receive a conducive environment to learn. He says committing mistakes and learning from them is part of that.

He says one small practical tip is being mindful of the way we ask our kids about their academic performance. Instead of asking, "Did you get full marks on your test?" parents can say, "How did you do on your exam?"

The first question implies a message that kids should get high marks on the test, while the second does not imply such a message, he says.

Furthermore, when children do not do well in tests, parents should not blame them. Instead, parents should first praise the achievements before turning to the mistakes. The opportunity should be a learning exercise in order to help the child learn from it, he adds.

Indeed, previous research has shown that supportive parenting reaps positive benefits for children. Those who receive positive attention from parents often have increased happiness, higher incomes, higher grades and stronger morality when they grow up, experts said.

Meanwhile, details of the new study are featured in the Journal of Personality.

Photo: Leonid Mamchenkov | Flickr

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