Remember what you were hoping for your baby before they were born? Most parents may have thought “we’ll be happy as long as the baby is healthy”. But once the baby is born, it’s easy to have more and more wishes for the child’s future, right?
WHAT IS “GOOD CHILD SYNDROME”?
How parents’ expectations impact on children’s development has been a big topic in Japan, as well as in many other countries. In Japan, the phrase “good child syndrome” has been coined to describe children (and young adults) who grow up having difficulty making decisions and expressing their emotions and opinions. These children are said to have spent their entire life constantly trying to meet their parents’ (and others’) expectations.
BUT HOW CAN THAT BE A BAD THING?
Our expectations can motivate children to strive for what they want to achieve in life. But when those expectations become too much for children, they can negatively affect self-esteem and mental health.
It’s very normal to have wishes and hopes for those we love. For some, the focus will be on things like wanting their child to be happy, to be a good person and kind to others, and to reach their potential. Sometimes, parents may say, “I want my child to do well at school” or “I want my child to have a good job”.
TOO MUCH PRESSURE
While it’s very natural to have these hopes and wishes for the future, sometimes we tend to focus more on external achievement and less on their own development. This can lead to demanding more efforts from them, and saying things like “other kids can do it” or “why can’t you do this?”. If your aspirations for them lead you to putting too much pressure on your child you can:
- Damage their confidence (“I can’t do it. I’m useless. Even my own parents can see it.”)
- Reduce their internal motivation (“My parents care more about my results than me. I suppose I will push myself for their sake, but I don’t really care any more.”)
- Make them feel like nothing is ever good enough (“If I got good marks in everything but one subject, they will talk about that subject. They only care about the results, not how much effort I put in.”)
- Make them avoid having conversations with you because they feel uncomfortable (“I’m worried about my schoolwork and I feel like there’s too much pressure on me, but I can’t talk to my parents about it.”)
This is exactly the opposite of what we want for them, because none of those things will help them in the long run.
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
In order for children to grow up to be well-adjusted happy adults, it’s not so much the facts they learn at school but the life skills they learn from you that will make the biggest difference. Teaching a child life skills can include things like:
- Develop good relationships with others, and follow rules – to be considerate; think about the impact of actions before acting; take turns; avoid hurting others and damaging things.
- Look after themselves – to be independent and resilient and able to handle strong emotions; manage their time; work out ways to solve problems.
- Listen and communicate – to show an interest when someone is talking; ask questions to learn more; talk about their own thoughts, feelings and ideas.
There may be many more life skills your children can benefit from, and these are acquired through our daily life (i.e., not by reading textbooks). Children will learn many of these skills through their interactions with their parents.
By focussing on your child learning these skills, and building a strong relationship with them, you may find that it takes some of the pressure off both of you to feel like there is a perfect standard to be reached.
WAYS TO HELP YOUR CHILD LEARN LIFE SKILLS
- Set a good example. You might have noticed situations where you see a parent and their child are behaving the same way. That’s because children often learn by watching others. They observe and absorb what others are doing like a sponge absorbs water. So it’s very important that parents demonstrate the skills they want their children to learn.
- Know what is reasonable to expect. It’s also important to know what your child is capable of, and to be realistic about not expecting too much – or too little. Once you’ve figured out what your child is capable of doing, then think about the skills they might be able to learn. These new skills should be appropriate for your child’s age and developmental stage.
- Teach them one skill at a time. It’s not realistic to expect your child to learn many skills at once.
- Praise them for their achievement. It may seem small to you, but if you can see them making an effort, respond with encouragement. Even we, as adults, feel confident and more motivated when someone close to us recognises what we’ve done. Children feel the same way! As parents praise their child’s efforts to try to acquire new skills, the child will associate learning with positive interactions with their parents. This learning process helps enhance their self-esteem and realise their potential.
As you reflect on what sort of person you want your child to be, and think about what sort of life skills you want to encourage your child to acquire, your encouragement will be more helping enhance their development as an individual, not making them feel under pressure just to please others.