We want our children to strive for excellence and to care about quality work, but the push towards doing it all may be putting our kids at risk.
Modern society often speaks about and actively encourages the idea of being able to “have it all”. The message is that we need to live perfect lives in order to be deemed successful.
Most of us want our children to strive for excellence and to care about quality work and there is certainly something to be said for people who are high-achieving, highly-motivated and detail-oriented.
What the professionals say
The professionals who work with children are noticing that the push towards doing and having it all is putting children at risk, particularly girls. In response to the have-it-all message, they equate being successful with being extraordinary and feel that anything short of extraordinary is failure.
Girls today experience intense pressure, at ever younger ages, to be everything to everyone all of the time. As well as being successful at school, they feel the need to be thin, pretty, popular, and accomplished in other areas too, like music, sports and the arts. Particularly troubling is the over-emphasis on physical perfection, even at a young age.
According to research more than half of girls in Grades 3-5 and three-quarters of girls in Grades 6 -12 worry about their appearance. Perceived “weakness” in this and any other area is seen as unacceptable. But this is unrealistic and when one’s sense of self is rooted in a need to be and look the best, one is often plagued by self-doubt. One fears failure but is ironically setting oneself up for just that.
Your child's own expectations
Girls who feel they are not achieving to their own impossible standards may get into a cycle of failure. There’s a feeling of, “I can’t do it, I’m not good enough.” They need constant reassurance from others to feel good about themselves. They fear what others will think about them and their ‘failure’.
These girls are generally anxious and are prone to developing mental health problems, including eating disorders, major depression and anxiety disorders.
Parental expectations play a role. If parents focus too heavily on high marks or winning, it may appear to the child that their love is conditional on her performance. It is important to communicate to children that their value lies in themselves, not in their performance or appearance.
Set an example in your own life and work by not being too obsessed by achievement. Show your children that you feel healthy pride in your accomplishments, that you learn from your mistakes and that you are not too harsh in your self-criticism.
Look at what the currency of value in your family is, what you admire and how this is communicated – you might be surprised at the messages that are being conveyed or received. Look at what you praise in your child as this conveys your values and expectations.
Actively encourage your daughter to be her own person, not the person you or anyone else wants her to be, and emphasise that doing your best is more important than doing the best.
If you feel that your daughter is unnecessarily stressed, and that this is starting to affect her social or family life, her health and happiness, talk to her teacher or another professional for advice.