PhotoYou only want the best for your child, so it’s only natural that you would want them to get the best grades. But could your high expectations be setting them up to become overly self-critical?

A new study suggests that parents may want to ease up on their academic expectations for kids. The five-year study of elementary school aged children found that kids with intrusive parents are more likely to have high levels of self-criticalness.

And this nagging sense of perfectionism instilled by mom and dad can snowball as kids get older, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Self-blaming behavior

Assistant Professor Ryan Hong, who led the study, says intrusive parents can signal to children that what they do is never good enough.

Consequently, he adds, “The child may become afraid of making the slightest mistake and will blame himself or herself for not being ‘perfect’. Over time, such behavior, known as maladaptive perfectionism, may be detrimental to the child’s well-being as it increases the risk of the child developing symptoms of depression, anxiety and even suicide in very serious cases.”

During the first year of the study, which began in 2010, games were used to sniff out parental intrusiveness. Parents watched as their 7-year-old children attempted to a solve puzzle within a time limit; they were told that they could help the child whenever necessary.

Highly intrusive parents would interfere -- for example, by retracting a move made by the child -- even if a child didn’t need or request assistance. 

Are you prone to hijacking a school project? Do you go ballistic at the sight of a 'B'? If so, how can you rein in your tendency to impose expectations? 

Tips for parents

It’s common to harbor some high expectations with regard to a child's academic performance. After all, it's your child -- and your child has had limitless potential since the day they was born. But parents should be mindful not to push children over the edge, says Hong.

“Children should be given a conducive environment to learn, and part of learning always involves making mistakes and learning from them. When parents become intrusive, they may take away this conducive learning environment,” he said in a statement.

In addition to being tolerant of mistakes, Hong says parents should consider changing the way they phrase certain school-related questions.  

Instead of asking, “Did you get full marks on your test,” parents can ask, “How did you do on your test?” Taking the expectation element out of the question can help send the message that mistakes are okay.

If mistakes were made, try not to hone in on them right away. Instead, Hong recommends praising a child's acheivements before jumping into the experience of helping them learn from their mistakes. 

The full study has been published in the Journal of Personality

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