Competitive Pressures on Kids
PTA Resources for Stress Relief Hints to relieve homework stress from Our Children.
Ways for parents to relieve competitive anxiety The stress a competitive society places on kids can be as unbearable for the parents as for their kids. However, child researcher Wendy Grolnick says competitive anxiety can be channeled into positive parenting.
First off, panicked parents need not worry that they are alone. Almost all parents feel pressured to have their kids succeed, Grolnick says. This is a protective response, one in which we are genetically predisposed.
"You're not crazy. We're hard-wired to protect our kids," she adds.
This hard-wiring can go haywire, though. When they feel their kids are threatened, some parents become controlling and start pushing kids to excel, Grolnick says.
This push does not always work. Too often, the focus is on outcomes—such as getting a good grade on a test—rather than learning or development, Grolnick says. When the outcome is the focus, what leads up to it is seen as work, not fun. Intrinsic motivations—the true keys to success—are wiped out.
"For the things that require excellence, the only thing that will ultimately get us there is that we are doing it because we love it," she says.
Parents can help maximize their child's chances at success (and reduce anxiety for both parent and child) by focusing on three feelings (which are discussed in her book with Kathy Seal, Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child):
- Autonomy – This lets children feel they can solve their own problems. They feel in charge and not controlled. This does not mean parents cede control or engage in "hands-off" parenting. It means, for instance, that you help a child with her homework when she asks for it and not hover over her making sure she completes it.
- Competence – By providing structure, parents give their children guidelines for how to act in the world, which instills them with a feeling of competence. Help them determine how to do well at something. For homework time, discuss with your child the best time to start, where to do it, and reasonable consequences for not doing it. "Get input from the child. Let them be part of the process," she says. Setting up structures is one way parents can siphon nervous energy into positive parenting. Parent and child can work together to build a structure that strengthens competence and feeds intrinsic motivations.
- Connectedness – Support, in the form of time and other resources, provides children with a necessary feeling of connection. Parents should never worry about being over-involved. You can't support your child enough as long as you also support her autonomy, Grolnick says.
Ultimately, what this system does is get kids to do more on their own, taking pressure off both parents and the kids.
"Involvement is good," she says. "Just be autonomy-supporting, not pressuring or controlling."