Croll: Are Parents’ Performance Expectations Making Our Kids Anxious?

By Chris Croll

Performance defines success here in Loudoun. Incomes are high, competition is fierce for everything from government contracts to seats at Academies of Science to admissions to in-state schools. Being busy has become a status symbol. Saying, “I’m triple booked,” is akin to saying, “I’m incredibly important.”

Local media was abuzz last week with news that Northern Virginia made the short list of contenders for the East Coast headquarters for Amazon; a company known for a punishing culture that aims to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of its employees.

Since we adults are driven by (and one could argue addicted to) performing at very high levels, it behooves us to think about how our behavior impacts our children. Schools already evaluate kids almost exclusively based on a child’s output—test scores, essays, presentations and other “work product.” Human attributes such as kindness, integrity, sportsmanship and emotional intelligence aren’t taught in the classroom and we parents are so focused on outcomes (grades) and production (success on the field, at the concert, etc.) that we rarely have time to teach our children these soft skills at home. Some parents don’t even think these attributes are important unless, of course, they impact a child’s performance.

Here’s the rub: When our children see us rushing around busy, busy, busy performing and achieving at high levels, it can make our kids feel like they should be doing the same. They feel pressure to be “the best” at everything they do too, even if it’s something they’ve never attempted before or something they would prefer to do just for fun. For many kids, a fear of failure or fear that they won’t ever “self-actualize” like their parents leads to severe anxiety.

I run a support group for families who are raising gifted children. Our kids are, presumably, some of the most capable students, at least as far as being born with raw processing power, and anxiety is a huge issue for these children. “How to help my child manage anxiety,” ranked as the number one most requested meeting topic this year. Area therapists tell me their offices are overflowing with bright-but-stressed-out kids who need professional help to manage their worries.

So how can we adults do a better job of modeling healthy behavior for our children?

First, let’s agree to let our kids see us fail more often. Anyone who performs at a high level, whether in sports, academics or business, has failed many times before becoming successful. Let’s show our kids that we make mistakes, so they see that everything in life doesn’t come easy.

Next, let’s agree to applaud our children more for showing good character than we do for earning good grades. Being kind and compassionate is more important in the long run than performing at peak levels so let’s make sure our children are rewarded for their innate goodness.

Finally, let’s free up some time in our schedules so we adults have time to relax, which sends the message to our kids that they, too, can relax which will reduce their anxiety. After all, our goal as parents shouldn’t be to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of our kids.

Chris Croll

Chris Croll is a parenting consultant specializing in educating and raising gifted and twice-exceptional children. She leads the National Center for Gifted Services (NationalCenterforGiftedServices.com) and the nonprofit Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students (LoCoPOGS.org). 

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