Intrusive Parenting Causes Maladaptive Perfectionism in Kids

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

A new five-year study of primary school children in Singapore performed by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) found that young people with parents who are intrusive had a higher likelihood of being hypercritical of themselves.

And over a period of years, this tendency rises. Kids in the study who exhibited high or increased levels of self-criticalness also were reported to have raised levels of depression or symptoms of anxiety.

The study was launched to examine how maladaptive perfectionism, or the “bad form of perfectionism,” develops in Singapore’s primary school students. Assistant Professor Ryan Hong, the leader of the study, which was conducted by researchers from the Department of Psychology at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Services, said:

“When parents become intrusive in their children’s lives, it may signal to the children that what they do is never good enough. As a result, the child may become afraid of making the slightest mistake and will blame himself or herself for not being ‘perfect’.”

Maladaptive perfectionism can lead to a risk of depression, anxiety, and even suicide in extremely severe cases, according to MedicalXpress.

The scientists discovered two aspects of maladaptive perfectionism, self-criticalness along with socially prescribed perfectionism, which is a child’s perception of those around him or her having unrealistically high expectations of him or her.

Hong and his team recruited students who were seven years-old from ten primary schools in the city. The parent who knew the child best was involved in the study as well. The investigation took place between 2010 and 2014 and was the first research of its kind into maladaptive perfectionism among primary school students.

The analysis began in the first year of the study with a puzzle game played by the young one accompanied by the parent. The mother or father was informed that he or she could assist the child whenever necessary. Highly intrusive parental actions occurred when parents took over the game by changing a move the young person had made, thus interfering with the young person’s problem-solving attempts.

Subsequently, the same test was observed when the child was eight, nine, and eleven. Reports from the child and the parent allowed for measurement of the levels of the child’s maladaptive perfectionism and symptom levels.

Prof. Hong said:

“Our findings indicate that in a society that emphasises academic excellence, which is the situation in Singapore, parents may set unrealistically high expectations on their children. As a result, a sizeable segment of children may become fearful of making mistakes. Also… they can become disinclined to admit failures and inadequacies and seek help when needed.”

Hong added that youngsters should be allowed a conducive environment in which to learn and should be taught that learning always includes making mistakes and then using them to acquire knowledge, says Calvin Yang for The Straits Times.

The researchers advised parents to stop blaming their children for not performing up to their expectations and instead to work on praising them for what they have done well before pointing out mistakes. It is always a good idea to turn children’s mistakes into opportunities to learn, said the scientists.

Another downside to expecting children to be perfect is that they can become unable to admit their failures or inadequacies, which can make it difficult for them to seek assistance when they need it. These consequences exacerbate the risk of young ones succumbing to emotional distress, reports Olivia Quay for Mediacorp News Group.

The study’s findings were published online in the Journal of Personality in March 2016. The research was funded by the Singapore Children’s Society and the Social and Family Research Fund, reports Wong Pei Ting of Mediacorp Press Ltd..