Intrusive parents tend to raise children who are highly self-critical, research finds.
Pushing children too far and over-reacting to their mistakes turns them into perfectionists who continually criticise themselves.
Being self-critical was also linked to heightened depression and anxiety later on.
Dr Ryan Hong, who led the research, explained:
“When parents become intrusive in their children’s lives, it may signal to the children that what they do is never 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 study followed primary school children in Singapore over a period of five years.
At the start of the study, a puzzle was given to the child to test the intrusiveness of the parents.
The more parents interfered with their child’s attempts, the more intrusive they were rated.
Parents who practically took over the puzzle from the child, rather than just helping when needed, were rated highly intrusive.
Dr Hong said:
“Our findings indicate that in a society that emphasises academic excellence, which is the situation in Singapore, parents may set unrealistically high expectations on their children.
As a result, a sizable segment of children may become fearful of making mistakes.
Also, because they are supposed to be ‘perfect’, they can become disinclined to admit failures and inadequacies and seek help when needed, further exacerbating their risk for emotional problems.”
The trick is to encourage children to learn from their mistakes, rather than exerting too much pressure on them.
Dr Hong advises:
“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?.”
The former question conveys a message to the child that he or she is expected to get full marks on the test while the second question does not convey such a message,”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Personality (Hong et al., 2016).