Are you a pushy parent? Eight signs you could be driving your child too hard

A family therapist and a psychologist tell Lisa Salmon how to spot if you are becoming a pushy parent

If you were unable to fulfil your own life expectations and are trying to live them through your child, it could be a sign you’re a pushy parent

IT’S normal to want your children to succeed and most parents will go to great lengths to help them do well. But when does a normal desire for success turn you into that dreaded thing: a pushy parent?

“Pushy parents often have good intentions at heart, believing their efforts will benefit their child’s future success,” explains family therapist Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari. “Parents can see their child’s successes and accomplishments as a reflection of their parenting and of themselves.”

And educational psychologist Dr Melernie Meheux, co-chair of the British Psychological Society division of educational and child psychology, points out: “We all want our children to be successful, for them to be happy and have friendships, but it’s how you achieve those goals – that’s how you distinguish between a pushy parent and a parent who’s supportive and just wants their child to do well.

“So if you demonstrate behaviour, put them in clubs, set goals and targets, that’s all normal. You encourage them to have a good work ethic and do their homework – that’s fine. The difference is when a child doesn’t have any space and it starts to affect their self-esteem and confidence, and all your time is driven by the pursuit of these goals.”

So could you be a pushy parent, or do you just want the best for your child? The experts outline the signs that you’re on the pushy side…

1. You don’t listen to what your child wants

“I think you’re a pushy parent if you don’t listen to your child’s needs and interests,” says Meheux, “and if you fill up their time with lots of activities that don’t allow them time to be with themselves or to be with their family and having fun.

“If you spend more time talking to your child than listening to them, are critical and always correcting, monitoring and advising your child, without empathy and compassion, you could be seen to be pushy.

“Listen to your child, find out what they’re interested in, where their strengths lie, and then you can put them in clubs all day long if it’s what they like and they’re choosing to go.”

2. You set unrealistic goals and have unrealistic expectations

Meheux says this could mean you send your child to football camp and talk about them being a professional footballer, even though you know they’re no good at football.

3. You enter them into lots of competitions and auditions

Ben-Ari, who’s also a psychologist and founder of The Village online parenting community, says some parents put a lot of time and energy into developing a child’s early ‘career’, taking them to various competitions, auditions, private lessons etc.

“Children are very sensitive to the parent’s unconscious agenda, and in most cases will try to please them in an attempt to maintain their love and sense of belonging,” she says.

This is most common with first-born children, who are most likely to be expected to fulfil their parent’s unconscious expectations, she says. “When this happens, a child might repress the parts of themselves that aren’t in line with the parent’s agenda,” she warns.

4. You’re very critical

If parents constantly criticise their child’s efforts, it can make them scared to even express an opinion.“If parents bully, ridicule or criticise, that can be a sign of being pushy,” says Meheux.

“If you’ve got a child that always wants to please you and they look to you before they even express an opinion, that means you’re a pushy parent because your child hasn’t developed their own sense of who they are and what they think.

“Praise your children and look at their strengths, rather than being critical. Being pushy can do more harm than good – it can be really harmful, but because children are exposed to lots of other adults in school, if those other adults are nurturing and kind, it can balance things out.”

5. Your child is anxious and emotional

Meheux says having pushy parents can make children feel anxious and affect how they regulate their emotions. “It can make them feel under pressure, like they’re not good enough and nothing they do is good enough,” she explains.

This can lead to children not taking risks with learning or even trying, because they’re frightened their best isn’t good enough.

6. You’re upset by your child’s failure but you want others to fail

Pushy parents may get upset by their child’s failure, and/or have a warped perception of what failure actually is, says Meheux. They may also want children their child is competing against to fail, or be ill on the day of a competition

She suggests: “If you’re unsure if you’re pushy, you could not put your child in competitive activities, and put them in activities where individuality is encouraged more.”

7. Your children are not having fun

A child may be good at a sport or playing an instrument, for example, but it’s not their talent that’s important, it’s whether they’re enjoying it, Ben-Ali points out.

"Being good at something doesn’t automatically mean it brings joy,” she stresses. “The real focus should be on what truly brings joy rather than where the talent lies.

“It’s beneficial for children to try out and explore many things, to be open to new experiences, and for the parent to encourage this, trusting the child to lead the way.”

8. You live your own dreams through your child

If you were unable to fulfil your own life expectations so you’re trying to live them through your child, it could be a sign you’re a pushy parent, warns Meheux.

“If as a parent you always wanted to play piano so you get your child to do it, remember it’s not too late to try it yourself,” she advises. “Look at what are your own dreams and what are the dreams your child has.

“Being pushy can impact children’s self-esteem, confidence and independence. If you don’t allow children to be autonomous, they don’t know how to function in the world as adults. It’s getting the balance right – encouraging and motivating children, but also listening, appraising them and looking for their strengths.”

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