Does making children ‘successful’ make them happy or sick?

Does making children ‘successful’ make them happy or sick? 150 150 Jane Evans
Why is so much emphasis put on making children successful?

Education policy is all about attainment levels and grades. As parents, this can bring huge additional pressures which we can pass on to our children But…Is success really the most important thing or does it increase their vulnerability to mental stress and distress?

When we become parents, however, we come to it, we often cling to certain beliefs about our children’s future happiness, success, and wellbeing.

  • I am a good person so my child will be too (wish I’d realized this instead of being the ‘good manners’ monitor 24/7)
  • My child will find their own way if I am always there for them (would have stopped me OBSESSING about exam revision)
  • My child will never do/say…… (insert your own fantasy here!)
  • If my child does well at school and in life they won’t get depressed or overly anxious.
Worrying about our child’s future requires balance

Raising a child with a positive outlook on life, and good mental and physical health is great. However, putting a child’s emotional and mental wellbeing under a microscope for signs they might be stressed out, isn’t. If we are overly anxious about whether they are, or are not OK means they will sense the tension which could cause them stress!

On the other hand, encouraging mental toughness and resilience is not the better option. Believing that a focus on success as the way to build mental strength overlooks how this can serve to disconnect a child from their true feelings. An underlying parental belief that…the Straight A’s, certificates, trophies, and medals will help a child feel good as they see their talent, hard work and focus get them to the top.

The truth is…children like to be in the moment, they are really good at it when we back off. They naturally choose and become absorbed in what excites and interests them. This might be football, dance, baking, dissecting a frog, identifying star systems, singing, drawing, collecting bugs or rolling down a grassy bank 10 times in a row.

Surely competition is healthy for children?

It is easy to hold on to the belief that as life is tough children need to learn early on, to aim high and work hard. I know this IS a strongly held belief by many but in reality, the human race does better when we collaborate rather than compete. In fact, that is what has gotten us feeble, frail humans this far.

A child may be brilliant at the something but once adults introduce competition, grades, marks, rewards and all that pressure it makes it into a totally different activity. It can also mean that a child will soon learn that, my success makes my parents happy which brings us closer together.

Highly successful children are exposed to two especially difficult realities as they progress
  1. Staying at the top gets tougher as you get older and is not guaranteed
  2. Being top can be isolating and make having authentic friends more of a challenge

Neither of these is a good foundation for a child’s mental well-being.

Being full of aspiration for a child is vital. Ensuring they know that succeeding, failing, working hard, getting distracted or not trying means your compassionate support IS still on offer to guide them, is a great security shield.  Don’t be scared to believe this.

If we reflect on some of our top performers, many end up in crisis either mid-way through their careers or when they come out of them.

For example:

Michael Phelps – winner of 22 medals for swimming struggled with alcohol addiction

Ed Sheeran – one of THE most famous singers of our time has spoken about panic attacks and anxiety

Jonny Wilkinson – a truly world leader in rugby speaks openly about his anxiety

Witney Houston – an incredibly famous and successful singer died from her drug addiction

Chester Bennington – the renowned lead singer from Linkin Park died from suicide

Robin Williams – a genius of an actor died from suicide

Alexander McQueen – internationally acclaimed designer died from suicide

Andre Agassi – world-famous tennis champion revealed he had repeatedly used drugs during his career

Don’t panic but get the belief-balance right…

Children do best when we believe in their goodness, motivation, curiosity, kindness, and determination

I am ashamed to say I didn’t always do this very well when my son was young. He seemed so laid back, which made me stressed. Of course, I wanted him to do well. MY anxiety saw me chip, chip, chip away at him. When I was calmer, I did try hard to support what excited him and to hold hard to the belief he would find his way.

Life threw some huge challenges in his pathway and he has come through them in ways I could not have imagined. I must have got the belief-balance to tip far enough on the, believe he will be fine side after all!

Remember to:

  • Trust in your child.
  • Trust you are a good-enough parent.
  • Seek support if you worry that you are pushing your child too hard.
  • Contact a support agency if you have any concerns about your child’s mental wellbeing (see below).
  • Watch your child as they are deeply sleeping. It is a simple, yet powerful reminder of just how precious and perfect they are…just as they are.

It is a sad fact that for some of our most outwardly successful children and young people can become overwhelmed and may not know how to show it or ask for help. Tragically for some, this can lead to them feeling there is only one way out.

If you know you are overly anxious about your child ‘doing well. Make sure to get support to learn to believe that it is better to go slowly with your child. That they will be OK if you are able to let them follow what they are drawn to for the sheer joy of it. Children are born to do well when they can.

Further Reading:

The suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have been steadily rising since 2007, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Japan, more people under the age of 18 commit suicide on Sept. 1 than any other date, according to a 2015 government white paper (link in Japanese, pdf) examining 40 years of data.

Suicide by children and young people in England. National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness (NCISH). Manchester: University of Manchester, 2016.

Ten common themes in suicide by children and young people:

? family factors such as mental illness

? abuse and neglect

? bereavement and experience of suicide

? bullying

? suicide-related internet use

? academic pressures, especially related

to exams

? social isolation or withdrawal

? physical health conditions that may

have social impact

? alcohol and illicit drugs

? mental ill health, self-harm and suicidal ideas

Information and Support for Children and Parents:

Young Minds UK

NHS Help for suicidal thoughts

Organisations with telephone lines for children and families in Australia

Mental health and suicidal thoughts in Children NSPCC

Child Suicide Helplines USA

Tell Lifeline Japan

Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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