5 Signs You're a High-Pressure Parent

Learn strategies to help your child reach goals, without stressing them out.

high pressure parent with daughter

Our current culture is all about immediacy: we text, Tweet, post on Facebook. We know everything that everyone else has accomplished. It's easy to see how this trickles down to our kids. Your 2-year-old stays dry through the night? What will you challenge her with next? Your tween got one of two slots for the organic goat cheese making internship this summer? Add it to the college resume!

But does the constant goal-reaching mean you are a Pressure Parent?

Pressure Parents have been in the news a lot recently with moms and dads assaulting and verbally attacking their kids' coaches and even opposing players. One father in Massachusetts bit off part of a basketball coach's ear to express his anger. Obviously, these parents were too invested, but making the headlines isn't the only sign that you're coming on too strong where your child's success is involved.

Setting high expectations for kids isn't necessarily a bad thing. But how lofty these goals are has to depend on how your child is responding to them. "Parents want kids to succeed and do well but when they get overly involved andpressure kids they lose sight of the negative impact it has on a child," says Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., Care.com parenting expert. That negative impact can be anything from kids having nightmares, developing an OCD, pulling out their own hair, turning to drugs, seeking out underachieving friends or putting added pressure on themselves to please parents.

"The key is to be your child's biggest fan and nurturer," says Boston-based psychotherapist Karen Ruskin, Psy.D, author of The 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children Who Make Responsible Choices. "Act as a 'supporter' rather than a 'pusher'."

While you're certainly not going to stand by idly if your daughter is flunking math, you also can't ignore her when she's putting more effort into her art final then necessary. "The perfect balance is to be empathetic, compassionate and helpful when your child is being too hard on themselves, while also asserting just the right amount of pressure as the cheering squad to help your children be the best version of themselves," says Dr. Ruskin.

Signs and Strategies

Do you put too much pressure on your kids? Whether it was how you were raised, you're feeling they just need an extra push, or you want them to achieve things you weren't able to, it's important to provide encouragement without causing them more stress than they can handle. Our experts have pinpointed the signs that you're applying so much pressure on your kids that one of you might pop. Here are some strategies Drs. Ludwig and Ruskin suggest to better communicate with your child:

  1. When you're getting upset. Do you feel anxious, mad or depressed when your child fails to meet your expectations in school or a sport? To put all of your energy into ensuring your child succeeds leaves no time to take care of your own emotional needs. Frankly, it's unbalanced, says Dr. Ludwig.

    The fix: Reclaim your favorite pastimes and passions. You'll always give your all to your family but you deserve as much attention. "Part of being a good parent is being a good role model and showing your child that you partake in things you love doing," says Dr. Ludwig." You can also show them how you work hard to achieve and how good it makes you feel about yourself."

    This doesn't mean you can't take an active role in helping your child with his education. Schedule time for yourself around when your son needs your help the most. "Sit with your child while she's doing homework and ask her to share with you what she is learning," says Dr. Ruskin. "Show her your interest rather than being her 'boss' and looking down upon her and ordering her what to do." This way you are helping them learn to learn. "When you help her to learn along with giving them positive feedback for her accomplishments she will develop a strong school work ethic."

  2. When you're fighting with your spouse. There are innumerous subjects a husband and wife can argue about - dirty socks in the corner, a late payment on the AMEX bill or the nosy mother-in-law. But when the tiffs too often turn into battles over your child's success, it's unhealthy for everyone. The high-pressure parent will blame his or her spouse for not putting enough pressure on the kids to get better grades. "If your child is above average in school, participates in activities and has friends but you still think it is not enough, you have high-pressure parent issues," says Dr. Ruskin.

    The fix: Think teamwork. It's natural to fight about the kids but you need to be on the same page to be effective parents. First take some time to reconnect as a couple. That means no talk about kids, window treatments or exterminators. Then re-examine what you both want for your children and how you can help them do their best without everyone in the house feeling anxious.

  3. When you always give negative feedback: Sometimes parents do it without thinking, but constantly pointing out what your kid did wrong, instead of where he made an effort, is a high-pressure tactic. Imagine how your daughter feels when she comes home proud to have gotten a B on a killer chem exam and all you can say is: Why didn't you get an A? It's not exactly a mood-lifter. The message your kid hears is that you want her to be perfect. Even if that's not what you verbalize, that's the unhealthy message you're sending.

    The fix: Praise them! Compliment the dinosaur parking garage your son made from Magna Tiles or the gracious way your tween daughter held the door open for an elderly couple. "Motivating your child will become easier when you are not inflicting your will on her," says Dr. Ludwig. True, every parent would love to see a report card full of As. But it's just not realistic. When your son brings home a B or even a C (dread!), ask him if he is proud of his score and if he would enjoy getting an A next time, suggests Dr. Ruskin. "Whether he is happy with his grade or beating himself up, the key is to be proud, validate what he is feeling and discuss his studying style," says Dr. Ruskin."Offer to help him improve his studying methods or organizing his notes."

  4. When you make all (every last one) of the decisions: Yes, moms and dads get to make the rules and many of the decisions. But when your son approaches you with the desire to play tennis and you insist he goes out for lacrosse, or your toddler wants to wear stripped leggings with a floral tunic and you put the kibosh on her creativity, your child will be stifled.

    The fix: Children need to practice making independent decisions. It's how they grow and most kids will make healthy choices when given the opportunity. And consider a compromise: LAX team, but tennis camp. It's when your dictatorship style becomes a theme in your relationship that you need to ease up, suggests Dr. Ruskin. "Happy kids are one who feel motivated by their selves, not just their parents," says Dr. Ruskin.

  5. When your child is overscheduled: What would you do with all that free time if you didn't have to shuttle your kids from one lesson to one practice to one tutoring session after another? Both Drs. Ludwig and Ruskin agree that high-pressure parents tend to enter their children into constant activity, often based on the parent's interests and not the child. If you don't want the piano to collect dust, then you should take lessons!

    The fix: Schedule some time to be low-key. School offers structure so kids need downtime...with you or their nanny. Play games with little ones (as in just to play, not specifically to learn numbers or spelling), fix a snack together and talk. Developing a relationship with your child at all ages and understanding their personalities and natural strengths might help propel you out of the high-pressure realm.

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