By Scott H. Silverman
In my work as a crisis counselor and family navigator, I am frequently brought in to help a family manage the most difficult times they will ever face. Often, a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, and, now more than ever, that can lead to a fatal overdose.
But, as a father, as well as someone who has been in recovery for 37 years, I’ve learned a lot about family interactions. It can be a difficult and delicate balance to navigate discipline and permissiveness in a way that benefits your child.
Pushing Your Child Can Do Wonders for Their Abilities and Self Esteem
By pushing your child out of their comfort zone, you might help them become better able to tolerate discomfort, and this is a very useful life skill. It will make them more capable and resilient. Encouraging your child to power through a tough situation can bolster their confidence.
Many parents focus on scholastics, encouraging their children to attempt and succeed in more difficult classes with an eye toward their future academic careers. Other parents push their children athletically, with an eye toward a fulfilling and amateur (or even professional) career.
In my experience working with families, I would have to say that parents who are invested in their children’s success to the point of pushing them to succeed are a better influence than parents who are overly permissive, or uninvolved in their children’s activities. However, there are some downsides to pushing your children too hard.
The Negative Mental Health Effects of Parental Pressure
Excessive parental pressure has been linked to some negative mental health consequences for children, and some of these continue and can be exacerbated as they grow up.
Data from a 2015 study suggested that children who grow up with parents who yelled, shouted, or verbally humiliated them have a greater likelihood of experiencing challenges into adulthood, including:
- Anger management problems
- Trouble maintaining relationships
- Eating Disorders
Here are some tips to navigate the often challenging process of raising a child in today’s world.
Be Aware of Verbal Criticism, Perfectionism, and Negativity
When parents use insulting or harsh language to admonish their children, the kids may turn that criticism on themselves and engage in negative self-talk. “I’m stupid,” they might say to themselves, or, “I’ll never do anything right.” Children raised in this dynamic often withdraw attention and affection. And when this happens, you may withhold affection and attention, too — whether you realize it or not.
Kids are a work in progress, and they will often show growth, and then backslide. This is normal. Being supportive when a mistake is made can go a long way toward improving your children’s resilience. Perfectionism can cause anxiety and stress and has been linked to eating disorders, among other mental health and behavioral problems.
Some Guidelines to Be a More Supportive Parent
Use praise more than criticism: Even when you want to call attention to a mistake or a behavior you want to change, lead off with a supportive comment that reinforces what they are doing right. If possible, offer four times as many statements of praise as statements of criticism.
Celebrate successes loudly, and minimize focus on failures: Trust me, your kids know if they failed at something, and they don’t need to be reminded. A failure is a chance to learn and discuss what went wrong – and then, you can drop it. On the other hand, it’s great to remind your children about how proud you are of their ‘wins.’
Don’t do your child’s work for them: Let your child face challenges on their own, even if they occasionally fail. Resist the temptation to intervene in your child’s life out of a sense of duty or control, such as approaching teachers or coaches to ask for extra credit or more playing time. By letting your child be in charge of their activities and outcomes, you can help them feel more capable, and they’ll be more motivated to solve problems in the future.
Validate your child’s feelings: Many parents expect their children to feel the same way about things as their parents. But, when you listen attentively to them, you may be surprised that they have different opinions and perceptions about activities as you. Validating your child’s feelings and keeping communication about emotions open and honest can help your child learn to trust their gut in life.
Getting Professional Help is always a Positive Move
There is a wealth of help available in the form of trained family counselors. Many parents assume that using a family counselor is a signifier of a shortcoming in their parenting skills, but I strongly disagree. Parents who take a proactive interest in the well-being of their family to the point of enlisting a professional counselor are showing that they prioritize the health of their family. Many resources are available online to locate a credentialed counselor in your area.
About the Author: Scott H. Silverman is a crisis coach and family navigator. He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic and the founder of Confidential Recovery, a drug treatment program in San Diego that specializes in helping Veterans, first responders, and executives overcome substance abuse.