With the rise in childhood anxiety, it seems children are under more pressure than ever. We are more aware of big forms of stress on children (e.g. from school pressures, divorce, abuse, bereavement, and abuse) but they are not the only ways. Few parents or teachers intend to put excess pressure on their child but there could be some ways you are adding to their internal pressure cooker. In this article I will share two hidden ways we unwittingly add pressure and some ways to take the lid off! (In a controlled manner of course!).
1. Asking too many questions.
I see this a lot in Hong Kong with the intense academic pressure that starts in the very early years! Asking questions is a very natural way parents feel like they are teaching their child. However be careful not to do it too much or it could have the opposite effect and turn your child off learning with you because they don't know how to turn your teacher mode off!
Think about it when you ask a question it puts pressure on her to answer. It also positions you as a teacher and/or judge so they feel constantly evaluated. Think about a really long job interview or a date where you felt interrogated because of so many questions. It's draining and creates distance. Children like to learn through discovery as well as through guidance.
A sign you’re asking too many questions could be that they turn their back on you, avoid eye contact or selectively listen when you know their hearing is fine. Or they may simply say “I don’t know” a lot even when you know they know the answer.
Another sign later on is that they ask you a lot of questions! It’s how they’ve learnt to interact with you. If you’re feeling irritated by the excessive amount of questions thrown at you that they know the answer to, you will completely understand how your child feels when you are asking too many questions with them!
What to do instead of asking questions… Reflect and comment on what they’re doing or saying e.g. Instead of “what are you looking at? Do you know what that is called?”
“Oh you seem really interested in that. You’re watching very closely.”
This shows you’ve noticed them and you’re trying to understand and you’re alongside with them on their exploration. Children will feel more relaxed and open to share information with you this way rather than feeling forced to with a direct question.
2. "Be good!”
Such a common phrase especially when we drop our children off somewhere. But what does it really mean? Let’s imagine before you go into a meeting with a client or perform some work event your boss says “Be good”. How would you feel?
Without meaning to if you repeatedly say this (especially if your child finds it difficult to behave appropriately) the child could interpret this as “there’s a chance I won’t be good”. My parents are worried I won’t be good. I am not usually good. I have to try to be good (rather than feeling innately good).
What to say instead:
"Be good!" …changes to....
"I will miss you!”
“I know you’ll do your best to listen well to the teachers”
“I love you!”
Send them off feeling good about themselves is the best bet you have for them behaving well.
Let me know!
What subtle ways do you notice your child feeling pressured? Do share any of your own phrases or tips for releasing stress in your family in the comments below. Don't forget to play!