Ambition is essential, but there’s a thin line between dream and over-ambitiousness. Often parents don’t understand how much is too much for their kids, and they harm their children’s mental health. The line between care and too much care should be addressed.We always wish the best for our children and work hard towards providing them with a life of plenty. A little slip may make them go overboard in course correction. The best case is when parents have realistic hopes and encourage the child to excel in whatever he takes up.
The psychology of over-ambitious parents
Unfulfilled ambitions form the base of increased and unrealistic expectations. The parents have envisioned a life for themselves or kept a bucket list to be ‘successful’ according to societal parameters. Some checkboxes may lead to frustration. They start seeing their kids as an extension of themselves and treat them as ‘successful individuals. Then there is the other lot too: the over-achiever parents. These parents expect their children to follow suit. They consider their achievements essential, no matter how phenomenal they may be, and they do not see why their child should deviate even marginally from their footsteps.
The impact of over-ambitious parents on children
Every parent wants their child to excel in school, sports, and extracurricular activities. During adolescence, the child has excess pressure to excel not only in studies and sports but in looks too. It is a competitive world, and the child feels immense mental stress. The first rank can accommodate only one name, and the first ten ranks have a place for ten children. Does it make the others less? What the child expects in such times is support at home, emotional support that anchors them and does not lead them astray. They look for constant validation from their family. And if they are judged there, it is the final straw to make them feel worse. Parents who set unrealistic goals or impossibly high expectations for their children unknowingly push them further away. The child starts judging themselves on the parameters their parents have selected. Any deviation from these leads them towards disappointment, anxiety, sleep disorders, and, worst of all, struggling with low self-esteem for life.
How to deal with over-ambitious parents
Dealing with over-ambitious parents is easier said than done. However, here are a few pointers that may be of some help:
- Set clear boundaries: Give the parents confidence through your conviction. After all, they want the best for their child, and in the process, they tend to become overbearing sometimes.
- Clear communication: Communicate clearly with them to let them know the child’s expectations too. Communication should never be one-way but inclusive; rather, it should have ample room for disagreement.
- Interact: The best times are when the family laughs, participates, and plays a sport or leisure activity. Working as a team brings you closer and strengthens the bonds beyond the authoritative limits. When you become one unit and give some suggestions, it will never be seen as instruction but friendly advice coming out of concern.
- Introspect: The role of the parents through interaction is facilitative, helping the child have a mind of his own. A bit of introspection would go a long way in raising the level of interactions as a family.
- Positive reinforcement bundled with an appreciation or acknowledgement means the world to the children. How you celebrate the success or even normalize the failures will power them to become strong individuals. ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those imposters just the same’ is a famous line by novelist Rudyard Kipling and can be seen as the crux of good parenting. A child seeks validation from their parents, and then getting it without any judgment will give them the much-needed confidence to keep moving ahead without the fear of failure.
There is no right parenting style, but you need a positive attitude to avoid being over-ambitious. Good parenting is letting your child figure their way around life, and it is certainly not building a smooth road for them but teaching them to walk or run on any road. Especially in today’s digital age, when social media pressure is mounting on the younger generation, a certain maturity is required to ensure the child’s mental wellness.As parents, you should be their happy place, where they can be whatever they want regardless of societal trends. They should be assured that this is one place where they are free to walk, run, fly, or even fall and rise again. They should know it is okay to be average and still be happy; it is okay to not win at all times, to make others succeed, and to feel extraordinary in even the mundane things of life. And for this, we all need to get over the parental obsession with ‘the best’.
- G. W. Haggstrom, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S.), and Rand Corporation, Teenage parents: Their ambitions and attainments. Santa Monica, CA. : Rand, 1981.
- G. Straub, “Parental (over-)ambition in competitive youth sport: A multi-theoretical approach,” Ger. J. Exerc. Sport Res., vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 1–10, 2019.
- D. Weenink, “Cosmopolitanism as a form of capital: Parents preparing their children for a globalizing world,” Sociology, vol. 42, no. 6, pp. 1089–1106, 2008