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Parenting Guide: Education

Parental support and guidance are often integral components to a child’s early successes. However, finding the right balance of nudging without nagging has proven to be a struggle for many parents. Tim McDermott of Tim McDermott Tutoring & Test Prep in Maitland believes, “it’s actually healthy for parents to hold their children to high standards, but only to the point that doing so motivates the children to be better and aim higher and sets them on track for long-term happiness.”

Academic pressure can be felt at any age but it is particularly high for those nearing the end of high school and the start of college. That pressure, whether from parents, teachers or self-imposed, can be catastrophic. Tiffany K. Griffin, director of academic advising and support services at Rollins College, says she has “seen students lose their lives to the disease of perfection. I have seen students uncontrollably sobbing because they received a B. I have seen students be willing to fail out of college rather than turn in piles of completed assignments that fall short of their internal standard of excellence.”

She continues, “Some students will get no less than an A in every class, join every club, and every friend will wonder why they can be so perfect, yet behind doors, they are hurting because the burden is cumbersome.” Greg Pesicek, associate director of high school at Windermere Preparatory School, adds: “High-achieving students can tend to want to do too much. I believe it is our responsibility as adults to ensure they achieve balance in their lives. By allowing them or even worse, pressuring them to overexert themselves, we are doing them a disservice.”

Recognizing signs that your child is under too much pressure is vital as kids may not feel comfortable sharing their concerns or simply don’t know how to best express their feelings. Dennis Freeman, director of In-Home Tutors Orlando notes, “You’ll know your child is under too much pressure if you see signs of low self-esteem, depression or disrupted sleep patterns.” Lisa Coffey, director of social services at OCPS, suggests looking for signs of behavioral problems and says, “Students may even start to resent school; they may make up excuses as to why their work isn’t getting done or become secretive about when projects are due and when tests are coming because they don’t want to deal with the added pressure of being reminded or asked about it.” Sleep deprivation is also a key sign that your child is feeling the strains of too much pressure. “I’m always shocked by the lack of sleep that most high schoolers get because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, so they cut into their sleep time to try and stay on top of their assignments and make the cut,” McDermott says.

For parents who want to ensure that they are not pushing their child too hard, Coffey states, “A good rule of thumb is to make sure that pressure is done in an effort to motivate. It’s important to help your child to set realistic, achievable goals while also recognizing any of the successes they have already achieved.” Freeman adds that parents should also help their child “practice positive self-talk. If you’ve heard your child say things like, ‘I’m not smart enough to get good grades’ or ‘I’ll never pass this test,’ help them reframe their thoughts and come up with some positive statements such as, ‘I am prepared and my job is to do the best I can.’ Keep your conversation light, come up with funny (but positive) statements.” Pesicek asserts, “Support from parents should come from conversations about learning and growth; not solely grades. Kids are more than a letter grade and test score.”

Experts agree that as important as it is to know what to say to your child, it is just as essential to know what not to say to your child. McDermott notes, “One of the most harmful things a parent can tell their child is, ‘Well, I/your older brother/the neighbor’s kid was able to [insert accomplishment], so why can’t you?’ Comparing your children to others is almost always demotivating and counterproductive; if we want children to thrive and succeed, we need to uplift them, not point out their shortcomings.” Parents should also never try to live vicariously through their children or hold them to incapable standards. Coffey recommends that parents “really broaden their definitions of what success is and celebrate those different kinds of success and encourage a wide range of interest in their children.”

Failure is a part of life, and showing your child how to recover from and/or overcome adversity will help prepare them to better deal with future challenges. Griffin points out, “Failure is not Instagram-worthy, but it provides a crucial lesson: ‘When I screw up, I am still capable and worthy of reaching my goal.’ Failure is just an uncomfortable learning opportunity, not your permanent identity.”

Coffey says, although talking to your teenager may be challenging at times, “communication is key. You need to really listen to your child when they are saying they are overwhelmed and talking them through how they can handle that and what things they could do to better prioritize.” She continues, “It’s also a good idea to ask your child directly, ‘Am I being too overbearing? Am I pushing you too hard?’ And then revisit the conversation as needed.” Pesicek says, “If you’re concerned about their stress or anxiety, don’t hesitate to ask for help or find a local professional.” Because, he explains, “While there are some long-standing high school experiences that we as adults may relate to, by no means is what your child experiencing in high school in 2022 the same as it was when we were in high school.”

Experts also note that, sometimes, the most important thing a parent can

do when a child is experiencing hardship is to simply be there for them. As Griffin says, “Your student needs you to listen, support and love them more when they are struggling.” After all, McDermott adds, “teenagers are just beginning to learn how to juggle the many responsibilities of adulthood.”