Children with intrusive parents had high or increased levels of self-criticalness and greater risk of depression and anxiety.
A new study has found that children with intrusive parents had a higher tendency to be overly critical of themselves, a behavioral response that increased over the years and led to elevated depression or anxiety symptoms.
The five-year study by researchers from the National University of Singapore examined how maladaptive perfectionism – commonly known as the ‘bad’ form of perfectionism – develops in primary school children in Singapore. Their findings are published in the Journal of Personality.
“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,’” said Assistant Professor Ryan Hong from the Department of Psychology, who led the study.
The present study examined two aspects of maladaptive perfectionism in children: self-criticalness, which is the tendency to be overly concerned over one’s mistakes and imperfections; and socially-prescribed perfectionism, which is one’s perception of others having unrealistic high expectations of oneself.
While other studies on maladaptive perfectionism focused primarily on adolescents and college students, this study focused on young primary school children.
The study involved seven-year-olds and the parent that was more familiar with each child. The children had to solve puzzles within a time limit, and the parent was told that he or she could help the child whenever necessary.
The researchers wanted to observe whether the parent interfered with the child’s problem-solving attempts—regardless of the child’s actual needs. An example of a highly intrusive parental behavior would be when the parent took over the game to retract a move made by the child.
Analysis of the data collected from 263 children showed that about 60 percent of them were classified as high and/or increasing in self-criticalness, while 78 percent of the children was classified as high in socially-prescribed perfectionism. Both aspects of maladaptive perfectionism tend to co-occur, with 59 percent of the children having both self-criticalness and socially prescribed perfectionism.
“Our findings indicate that in a society that emphasizes academic excellence, which is the situation in Singapore, parents may set unrealistically high expectations on their children,” said Hong.
“As a result, a sizable segment of children may become fearful of making mistakes. Also, because they are supposed to be ‘perfect,’ they can become disinclined to admit failures and inadequacies and seek help when needed, further exacerbating their risk for emotional problems.”
Hong noted that while parents may have high expectations of their children, children should be given a conducive environment to learn and make mistakes in.
The article can be found at:
Hong et al. (2016) Developmental Trajectories of Maladaptive Perfectionism in Middle Childhood. National University of Singapore; Photo: Shutterstock.
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