We all want our kids to succeed, but how do you know if you’re pushing your child too hard?

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Updated on Jan 19, 2024 · 7 mins read
We all want our kids to succeed, but how do you know if you’re pushing your child too hard?

What’s common between Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf? Their grand slam titles? Or their overbearing dads, who pushed them into the world of tennis and wouldn’t accept anything short of perfection.

It begs the question:  is pushing children into endless hours of practice the only way to success?

Andre Agassi may have broken records in the world of tennis, but he revealed in his autobiography that he hated the sport and described it as the loneliest one. And he and Steffi aren’t pushing their kids to be the next tennis prodigies either.

Instead, they’re letting them pursue their own passions. So, what happens when parents push too hard? And more importantly, as a parent, when push comes to shove, do you push or shove?

Why do parents push their kids?

Zooming in on one parent and one sport doesn’t help us understand the bigger picture of parenting. However, a closer look at the parents does help many understand the reason why some parents decide to push their kids to excel. This could be in school, sports, or even TV shows or beauty pageants.

Many of these parents feel compelled to exert pressure on their offspring for different reasons. It could be societal pressure to succeed, personal grievances, or even unfulfilled desires that they wish to see their child live out in their place.

Sometimes the pressure plays the hero in the story, providing kids with much-needed motivation to attain their goals. Other times, it fizzles into stress and anxiety and produces a counterintuitive effect that destroys the parent-child relationship.

Here are some reasons parents pressure kids to do certain things:

Achievement and success

Every parent wants to see their children succeed and reach their greatest potential. Pushing their children may help them develop the skills, work ethic, and discipline required to achieve in academics, athletics, and other areas.

Personal goals

Some parents may project their unmet desires and goals onto their children. They encourage their children to pursue interests or jobs they were unable to pursue, expecting their kids to succeed where they failed.

The rise of child influencers and monetisation has also changed “parenting” for many kids whose mums have turned their lives into an endless opportunity for content.

External stimulus

We live in a competitive world, and society frequently puts high expectations on parents to ensure their children are successful and productive. Are they excelling in their academics? Are they representing the school in sports? Are their college applications looking good?

Because lacking in these areas could make you a “bad parent” who has “failed” parenting. This is why parents may feel pressured to push their kids to meet these societal standards, fearing that their children may fall behind or face disadvantages if they don’t strive for excellence.

Education and future possibilities

Parents understand the value of education and believe pushing their children academically would lead to better employment possibilities and future opportunities.

They want to give their children a strong foundation for success- and to make sure they get in to the best colleges.

When is it good to push a child to try new things?

Of course, not all parents push their kids to be the best tennis stars or college athletes.

The majority give their kids the little push and shove they need to achieve milestones. Some children benefit from being encouraged to explore new activities in various settings and simply need that extra coercion to step into the pool.

Other times, it can be just as simple as pushing your child to be confident. Fears or shyness can hinder a child’s readiness to try new things. My friend’s son was one of these kids. But his mother wasn’t one to let him hide away his entire life.

So she made sure she took him to every party and gently shoved him into different situations. She signed him up for acting classes and sat with him during rehearsals as he tried to find his voice. “Louder,” his teacher would say.

By fifth grade, he wasn’t just doing well in school, he was even making jokes in his class.

If his mother hadn’t sat through the tears or pushed him through those days, he would have never found his confidence. In the same way, children can develop courage and resilience by being gradually introduced to new, but safe, experiences and pushed into trying new things.

Similarly, encouraging a child to try new activities may help them discover new interests and talents. By exposing children to various scenarios, they can discover and thrive in what they truly enjoy. Trying new things typically involves dealing with challenges and setbacks. You can help your child build resilience and tenacity by encouraging them to persevere in adversity. This perspective will be useful as children meet obstacles and learn how to overcome them throughout their lives.

Another reason that parents push their kids is to make sure they don’t struggle with adulting.

Making decisions and choices, managing their own laundry, and cleaning their room all prepare them to be responsible adults. By allowing your child to make decisions and accept responsibility for their actions, you encourage them to develop decision-making abilities, critical thinking abilities, and problem-solving abilities.

How do you know if you’re pushing your child too hard?

My son cried—no, literally wailed—as we approached the pool. It seemed like I was some evil pirate making him walk the plank when in fact this would be his first swimming lesson. We were already over age as he was 5 at this point.

He didn’t hate water; he just didn’t want to leave the floats. I turned around and looked at his face—red, covered in tears, and just a mess. I wished I didn’t have to do it, but I knew it was time. And he was just afraid of the unknown.

Was I pushing him too hard? No. So I sat down and hugged him. I let him know I would be there with him the whole time. An hour later, he refused to come out of the pool because he was loving it.

It can be difficult to tell if you’re putting too much pressure on your child, but there are several signs a parent should watch out for.

If a child consistently exhibits resistance, signs of distress, or negative emotional reactions such as anxiety, withdrawal, or frequent meltdowns when participating in certain activities, this could indicate that they are feeling overwhelmed or being pushed beyond their limits.

Pushing a child too hard may cause physical and mental exhaustion. If your child exhibits persistent signs of weariness, loss of energy, or rising irritation, it could be a clue that they are overburdened and need a break.

Another great way is to keep a check on how your kids perform in their activities. If they are beginning to lose interest in certain tasks, even with your constant encouragement, it may be time to take a step back and dial down the pressure. They may no longer find their employment exciting or inspiring.

Remember, pushing a child too hard may harm their physical health. If your child frequently experiences stress-related symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, difficulty sleeping, or a weakened immune system, this could indicate that they are under too much stress.

Withdrawal from social connections or avoiding activities they used to enjoy could indicate that your kids are overwhelmed by their demands. They may be sacrificing their social life or interests to meet expectations.

Pushing your child too hard can also strain the parent-child relationship. If you and your child have a continuous sense of tension, disagreements, or a communication breakdown then it might be time to assess your expectations.

At the end of the day, prioritising their well-being is what is ultimately the most important thing. After all, if there is anything that tennis legend Naomi Osaka has taught us, it is that success should never come at the cost of a person’s mental health.

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