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Pushy parents create self-critical children

Take a step back, mams and dads.

PARENTS WHO ARE heavily-involved with their children’s’ lives may produce self-critical children.

In a five-year study on primary school children in Singapore, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) found that children with intrusive parents had a higher tendency to be overly critical of themselves and this tendency increased over the years.

Children in the study who demonstrated high or increased level of self-criticalness also reported to have elevated depression or anxiety symptoms.

The study examined how maladaptive perfectionism – commonly known as the ‘bad’ form of perfectionism – develops in primary school children in Singapore.

Assistant Professor Ryan Hong, who led the study said that intrusive parents can send a message to children that nothing they do is good enough.

“As a result, the child may become afraid of making the slightest mistake and will blame himself or herself for not being ‘perfect’.

“Over time, such behaviour, 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.”

The NUS research team observed the participants’ behaviours, and coded intrusive behaviours exhibited by the parents in the context of the game.

Subsequent assessments on the children were carried out at ages eight, nine and 11. Children’s maladaptive perfectionism and symptom levels were obtained from the child and parent reports.

Analysis of the data collected from 263 children showed that about 60% of them were classified as high and/or increasing in self-criticalness, while 78% of the children was classified as high in socially prescribed perfectionism. Both aspects of maladaptive perfectionism tend to co-occur, with 59% of the children having both self-criticalness and socially prescribed perfectionism.

Hong says parents should modify their behaviour to avoid the trap of being too intrusive.

“One small practical tip might be the way we ask our children about their academic performance. For instance, instead of asking, “Did you get full marks on your test?”, parents can try asking, “How did you do on your test?””

Hong also advised that if a child did not do as well as expected in a test, parents should refrain from blaming the child for not performing up to expectations. Instead, parents should first praise the child for his/her achievements before turning to the mistakes.

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