Reports of the rising cases of depression and suicide among children as young as 12 years shocks us every time we hear or read them. It shocks us for a while, then we forget, thinking that everything is fine in our lives; our children will not resort to such things! But there are several factors within as well as outside the immediate family which slowly builds emotional pressure on children unknown to the people around her/him.
Every parent wants his/her child to excel in every field. Knowingly or unknowingly this very desire puts pressure on the child. Some express it openly and some try not to show it. Some of the direct ways of putting pressure on children are:
• Scolding the child for poor marks.
• Punishing or denying him something for not studying or getting a poor result.
• Comparing with other children.
• Boasting about one’s own talents which the child doesn’t seem to inherit.
• Saying things like- ‘I want you become a doctor/engineer/scientist and make us proud.’
Parents have become more aware now days and avoid putting direct pressure on the child. But sometimes what we feel is ‘motivating the child’, is actually an indirect form of putting pressure. Here is an example:
We often read philosophies like positive thinking brings success. We try to apply this on our kids and keep telling them- ‘Keep trying and Believe in yourself. You can do this. If you can get full marks in that subject, you can do so in this too.” There are different effects of this on the child. Sometimes the child tries to work too hard on a weak subject and then builds high expectations. Often it happens that the child really works hard at home but gets nervous when he appears for the paper. Sometimes the phrase ‘you can do it’ makes him overconfident and he doesn’t work hard or in his overconfidence he doesn’t bother to check the answer paper before submitting! In both cases the result is obviously not as desired. The ‘you can do it/nothing is impossible’ phrases when put against the continuous failures will only develop confusion and a sense of ‘ I am hopeless/ not good at anything’ type of feeling in the child.
Our aim should be to let the child love himself for all that is good in him and accept gracefully with a pinch of humor, what is lacking. When we praise what is good in him, he will automatically try to be good in other fields too, by himself. Self inspiration will help better because he is relaxed. Even if he doesn’t succeed much in his efforts, he still will be happy for his strong points. But focusing too much on the weaker side, even if through what we call ‘positive motivation’, puts mental pressure on the child. If not for himself, the child feels- ‘My parents have so much confidence in me, I have to do it for my Mother/ father/parents!’ Isn’t this pressure?
Sometimes when the report comes, whether good, average or poor, we immediately start asking the child, who got full marks or more marks than him. We are not directly comparing, but certainly giving out the message to the child – ‘why couldn’t you get full marks/ they are better than you’. Children are sensitive enough to guess our hidden feelings. Sometimes even though we may successfully stop ourselves from asking other’s marks, but somber facial expression on reading the report card gives away our feelings. An 8 year old once plainly said to me- “I got 17/25 in Maths. My Mama was very unhappy!” She didn’t scold or say anything, but the child understood. As he grows up he will be more worried about his mamma’s feelings. It is okay to convey our feelings, because otherwise the child may take things too lightly. But as a matured person, we have to help the child to find ways to improve. The child should know that you are willing to work with him and you love him in spite of the report. The child should know that you value his other talents and there is much more to life than marks. Help him excel in what he loves to do.
We may not directly express our displeasure to the child. But when we boast or lament about our children to others and the child happens to hear it without our knowledge, it will again pressurize the child. Boasting, too much praise of an intelligent child will put pressure on the child to keep up his reputation or do much better. Anything below his standard results may make him feel miserable and worthless. Not just boasting about the child, boasting about your own talents too puts pressure on the child to become like his parents. The child may aspire to be like his talented parents, even when he may actually be talented in some other field.
Putting the children in too many after school activity classes against their wish too is harmful. Let them essentially have some free time when they can be themselves. Free play outside refresh and de-stress the children.
Influence of peers
A child needs lots of self confidence to be happy as he is and not compare himself with others all the time. It is good to get inspiration from others but not to the extent of jealousy or getting an inferiority complex!
Children often talk among themselves about how their parents feel about them. They compare each other’s situation with their own and draw conclusions about their own parents. A friend who always gets and is confident to get above 90% marks may sometimes say something like- ‘I would kill myself if ever I get a single mark below 90%.’ Such comments get stuck in the mind of children who are trying hard to get a certain percentage. If these children are not happy about themselves, they may immediately resort to something self destructive if something goes against their expectations.
Children hear and read about the suicide cases of students who get less percentage or fail to get admission in reputed colleges. Such reports send out the message to them that it is not worth living with less marks or anything other than the best college!
Being happy, humble and thankful to God for what He has given us is the most important thing. Parents should make the children realize that we all have different abilities, outlook and ways to learn and solve problems. As a child Rabindranath Tagore was not very good at studies and he hated the regular schools. But he traveled a lot and observed and absorbed everything he saw. His experiences poured out in his free writings and he became a Nobel Laureate. The way to success is doing things freely and happily and not out of any pressure.