The objective of this article is to identify the risks of too much pressure on children.
By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Summary: Children placed under too much pressure are apt to feel like failures. Placing the bar too high robs children of their need–as with all of us–to feel successful. At best, this can result in children who drop out early from school and from life. At worst, some of thee children suicide.
Most children learn best when the tasks that they face are attainable. Many researchers and educators acknowledge that there is a “teachable moment” when a child possesses the readiness to learn a specific thing. When that “teachable moment” is reached (and it may last a year or more), children learn easily and enjoyably and tend to integrate new learning with knowledge that they already have.
However, when children are “forced” they tend to forget the learning if it is academic, or they fail to integrate it if it social or emotional. This inability to learn makes them feel like failures. Because they know that such failure is unacceptable to adults who are pressuring them to learn or achieve more, such young children feel they have displeased the adults on whom they are dependent. In order to recapture the adults’ time and attention, overburdened children may regress in behavior (act younger than they are). The child who can’t succeed in schoolwork may become the class clown or a bully in an attempt to get attention of any kind, even negative.
Pediatricians and family physicians also see the effects of extreme pressure on their patients. More and more children are presenting with ulcers, headaches, even the migraine kind, colitis, and other conditions that may be a response to psychological stress. Ninety percent of all illness is stress related. These stresses are now showing up in increasing numbers in our children.
Even more serious than all of this, is the phenomenon of suicide among children between the ages of 5-l4 years old. Many deaths that would fall into this category are undoubtedly reported as accidental, thereby concealing the suicide. Overall, childhood suicides occur because of fear of rejection or a sense of a lack of love.
There is disagreement among many experts as to whether children who contemplate suicide realize that death is final. Many times the victim, in anger, suicides and imagines being able to rejoice in how upset the survivors will be. The suicide victim assumes that he or she will be “there” to witness the pain of the leaving.
Keeping open communication is critical in child raising. Making it safe for our children to talk to us leaves the door open for children to let us know when they feel too much pressure. If a child can’t explain himself, being sensitive to the child that “gives up” is very important. These children live in a fog and are resistant to getting involved in anything. They carry the message that “I have given up.” The suicide in children is the ultimate protest against the pain being felt. Children who have avenues for talking to the adults in their lives don’t have to reach this point.
If too much pressure is harmful to a child’s development, what else can be done? And, if suitable pressures serve as positive motivation, how can this aspect be strengthened?
Some pressures such as poverty and unhealthy or unsafe living conditions are difficult for parents to modify by themselves. However, there are many areas that parents CAN affect.
The most basic answer is in careful observation and understanding of children-children in particular are groups, children as individuals, in their individual settings, in interaction with people and situations that are special to them. Some children can easily handle complicated schedules and accomplish a great deal in many areas and other children can’t. Some other children with different talents, temperaments, and energies can’t do this. Also, just because a child holds up well under pressure in one area doesn’t mean that he will be able to do in other difficult times.
For the most part, people who place inappropriate pressures on children do so because they don’t understand which pressures are appropriate and which are not. Understanding what is and is not appropriate means watching and listening to the children in question. It is also helpful to read about child development and participate in courses or discussions on this subject held in your community.
Parents also need to understand their own motivation. Parents often look to children’s achievements for various kinds of gratifications and sometimes the unique needs of the child get lost in the shuffle. A parent needs to keep in mind what will be good for THIS child at THIS time and help guide the child accordingly, rather than attempting to recreate what was or might have been the case in the parent’s own childhood.