Health In Focus
  • Children of intrusive parents tend to be overly critical of themselves
  • High level of self-criticalness is associated with anxiety and depression
  • Parental intrusiveness such as constantly interfering with children's decision making and learning process might cause long-term negative effects on them.
  • Parents should be mindful of their actions and avoid forcing their children in order to prevent unintended consequences.
In today's competitive world where academic excellence is greatly emphasized, parents tend to have high expectations for their children. They not only wish that their children perform well academically, but some of them might even urge their child to score well. In a few cases, parents even go to the extreme of over-reacting when their children make mistakes or score poorly.

A five-year study conducted by the researchers from NUS has revealed that children of intrusive parents tend to be overly critical of themselves. It also suggests that such a tendency could increase over the growing years and bring in long-term consequences.
Intrusive Parents Make Children More Anxious and Leads to Behavior Problems

The team led by Dr Ryan Hong examined two aspects of maladaptive perfectionism among children: Self-criticalness and socially prescribed perfectionism. While self-criticalness is the concept of being overly concerned about one's own mistakes and imperfections, socially prescribed perfectionism is one's perception of having unrealistically high expectation of oneself. This study also demonstrates the link between parental intrusiveness and self-criticalness among young children.

In the study, 7-year-old children from 10 different primary schools in Singapore were recruited. For each of them, the parent who was more involved in their ward's academics was included.  This was conducted over a five-year-old tenure (2010 to 2014.) In the first year, they used a game played by the 7-year-old child with the parent accompanying them.

The game involved the child in solving puzzles within a speculated time limit and the parent was allowed to help them as and when required. If the parent took over the game to retract a move that their child has made, they were noted as a highly intrusive parent. This task was to observe whether the parent intruded in the child's attempt at solving problems or not.

The research team observed the behaviors of the participants and coded intrusive behaviors the parents exhibited during the game. This was subsequently assessed at ages eight, nine and 11. The child's maladaptive perfectionism and symptom levels were derived from the child & parent reports.

The data collected from 263 children were analyzed and the participating group comprised of 60% boys and 40% girls. Among almost 90% of the children, the parent who was involved with them happened to be the mother. 

The results revealed a number of key findings:
  • About 60% of the children showed increased levels of self-criticalness
  • 78% of the children were deemed high in socially prescribed perfectionism
  • 59% of them exhibited both forms of maladaptive perfectionism.
These findings indicate that in a society that emphasizes academic excellence, parents tend to develop unrealistic expectations on their children.

Effects of Parental Intrusiveness

Persistently interfering with children's learning process and decision making could bring about long-term negative effects.  Children who demonstrated high levels of self-criticalness are prone to high levels of anxiety and depression.

When parents become intrude in their children's lives, it might give them a wrong signal that whatever they do is never satisfactory.  And in turn, the child might get afraid of making the slightest of mistakes and will also end up blaming themselves for being imperfect. This might turn into a behavior called "Maladaptive perfectionism" which increases the child's risk of developing anxiety, depression and suicide in extremely serious cases.

It is important that parents are mindful of their behavior and avoid forcing their children as it can lead to unintended consequences.

Here are few Tips for Parents:
  • Stop exerting undue pressure on your children and start encouraging them.
  • Be mindful of not pushing your children over the edge!
  • Give your children a conducive environment to learn and accept the fact that learning always involves making mistakes and learning from them. When you become intrusive, you take away such an environment.
  • Instead of asking your children if they would score centum, ask them how they performed. While the former sends a message to children that they are expected to get full marks, the latter does not.
  • When your child has not performed as expected in a test, refrain from blaming them for not keeping up with the expectations. Rather, praise the child for the achievements before pointing out their mistakes.
  • Because the children are expected to be perfect, they could get disinclined to admit failures and inadequacies and they will no longer seek your help when they need.
  • Children might also get anxious about their mistakes and reluctant to seek help whenever they need it. This might further exacerbate their risk for emotional problems.

References :
  1. Intrusive parents may lead children to be overly self-critical: NUS study - (
Source: Medindia

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