Leona O'Neill: Pushy parenting won't get children anywhere

If you've been to a kids' sporting event you'll have seen a pushy parent, acting as if the result were a matter of life and death. Such mums and dads would do well to reflect on how their children are more likely suffer more from depression, anxiety and poor social skills, writes Leona O'Neill

Get social climbing, kid – pushy parenting can harm children’s emotional resilience
Leona O'Neill

PUSHY parents have walked the Earth since the days of the dinosaurs. They are there behind the kids when they are competing in competitions, doing school tests, and on the sidelines of sporting events.

They want their kids to win at everything. Forget your Olympic Games contestants, the pushy parent is the most fiercely competitive and ruthless human being on the planet.

I had a discussion with a self-confessed pushy parent last week. She insisted that me not pushing my kids constantly would lead them to grow up to be pizza-guzzling, YouTube-watching layabouts.

She said that she became a pushy parent when her young son failed a primary school assessment. She said she felt like the village idiot and set about pushing her kids to do well in everything they did.

They are all doctors now, she told me. I smiled one of those weird smiles that doesn't quite reach your eyes.

My parents were not pushy parents at all. They instilled in all of us that we were capable of great things, that they believed in us, and that it was our job to go out there and get the world and shake every fibre of life out of it, to make it great and enjoy every day. They supported us and they cheered us on.

I think they did a fine job since my brother is a world-class concert pianist who has sold out Carnegie Hall three times and is a professor in a US university, my sister is an architect, my other brother an IT specialist and I'm a journalist. All that and there was no pushy parenting in the mix at all.

Pushy parenting has been found to cause great damage to the self-esteem and confidence our kids need to negotiate the challenges of life. Studies show that children raised by pushy, authoritarian parents tend to suffer more from depression, anxiety and poor social skills.

Because of the enormously high and unreasonable expectations they put on their children, kids who can't live up to them feel perpetually like failures. That's not a gift I want to hand to my children.

I am not a pushy parent. I let my kids work at their own pace. If they have homework to do, they know they have to do it. They get it done.

That's it. No questions asked. I cheerlead, I am there to congratulate them when they do well and I'm also there with a hug if things don't go to plan.

I am not a tiger, a helicopter or any of those other ridiculously termed parenting types.

Sometimes I think I just make it up as I go along. I like to think they learn by example. My husband and I work hard for the nice things we have in life, and our kids equate working hard with having nice things.

Far from being YouTube and pizza-obsessed layabouts, my kids are doing well at school and they are happy. My middle son plays football and it is at some of the tournaments he plays in, pushy parenting is on full display.

I'm sure everyone who has been to a sporting event has experienced the hysterical parent pacing up and down the sidelines shouting instructions to the players who are already doing their best, shouting abuse at the other team or telling their offspring that their granny could do better.

And I saw my fair share of pushy parenting surrounding the transfer test too, where parents had their children tutored to within an inch of their lives, and had them practically tied to their practice tests and not allowed outside for months to get them into a grammar school.

None of it is good for the young mind forming the foundations of emotions and ideas that they will carry for the rest of their days.

Pushy parents tend to stress their kids out and experts have said time and time again that this can harm their emotional resilience.

Kids need to be given the opportunity to fail, they need to learn from it, realise that it doesn't affect how their parents love and respect them. They need to be able to pick themselves back up and try again.

I want my kids to be the best that they can be, not the best that I can push them to be. They are not an extension of me and I will not project my ambitions upon them.

I am not particularly worried about their future careers. I will not push them on to a path they didn't want to find themselves, just to validate my prowess as a parent.

Life as a kid, with its relentless onslaught of tests and assessments, is tough enough. I think the pushy parents need to take a step back and allow their kids to be kids.


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