Are we putting too much pressure on our children?

Written by Kristin Tallackson, M.A.


Pressure. I feel it, you feel, and our children feel it. We feel the pressure to succeed, the pressure to be the best parent, and the pressure to raise successful children. Our society has created this undue pressure to “be the best.” It is normal to see high schools placing pressure on good grades and getting accepted into desirable colleges. However, I am seeing more and more children (at younger ages) who are stressing about performing academically. I was curious, so I read the research about how academic pressure impacts children.


Research shows that children who perceive their parents as valuing personal success and a successful career over kindness and decency towards others, were more likely to report internalizing symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, and externalizing symptoms, such as low self-esteem. Research suggests valuing a child’s kindness and decency towards others is vital to their overall success.


All pressure isn’t bad pressure, the tone in which we (parents, caregivers, teachers) relay the message is important. Research shows that children who received encouragement were more likely to succeed without internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Pressure becomes destructive when it comes across as critical, and when it overshadows, or does not co-exist with, a simultaneous value on more intrinsic goals that are more oriented toward personal growth, interpersonal connections, and community well-being.1


So, how can we help our children succeed without putting undue pressure? The key is balance. It is best said by Luther, “Not pushing kids to achieve or succeed at the expense of maintaining close relationships to others. And, we as parents must watch our tones,” she cautioned, “because sometimes, what we might think is encouragement to perform better comes across to our kids as criticism for not being ‘good enough’ by their standards.”


“The more parents are able to balance their encouragement of personal success with encouragement of maintaining kindness and personal decency, the more likely it is that children will do well,” she added.


“This is especially true for kids in high achieving schools and communities where the reverberating message they hear from their earliest years is that above all else they must distinguish themselves as top-notch, or the very best, across their various activities, academic as well as extracurricular.”

 Kristin is a counselor at Heights Family Counseling who specializes in anxiety, attachment, and child/teen counseling. Kristin's counseling approach is to offer a safe place for you to process and work through a multitude of circumstances, while offering valuable insight and perspective into whatever journey you may find yourself. Her philosophy is to embrace you where you are, equip you with tools, coping mechanisms and knowledge, and empower you to take those tools and lead a fulfilling life. Read more about Kristin’s counseling approach at

1,2Ciciolla, L., Curlee, A. S., Karageorge, J., & Luthar, S. S. (2016). When Mothers and Fathers Are Seen as Disproportionately Valuing Achievements: Implications for Adjustment Among Upper Middle Class Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46(5), 1057-1075. doi:10.1007/s10964-016-0596-x