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Don’t fall into the trap of competitive parenting

It is not uncommon to hear parents brag about their kids’ achievements or ask fellow parents how their children did in their exams or at a particular sporting activity. Competitive parenting might be the norm for some and it is amplified in a sense in Singapore, thanks to the ‘kiasu’ mentality many of us have too.

Don’t fall into the trap of competitive parenting

It is natural for parents to want the best for their children, but there is a fine line between that and going out of the way to be competitive. TODAY file photo

It is not uncommon to hear parents brag about their kids’ achievements or ask fellow parents how their children did in their exams or at a particular sporting activity. Competitive parenting might be the norm for some and it is amplified in a sense in Singapore, thanks to the ‘kiasu’ mentality many of us have too.

But this is not a purely Singaporean problem.

Actress Mayim Bialik, best known for her role on hit TV show The Big Bang Theory, recently shared a post on Facebook titled “Why Are Moms So Competitive?”.

She discussed her experience of attending a “mom’s group” and how she felt that “everything was a competition”.

Mrs Jean Shashi, a psychotherapist and director at Relationship Matters in Singapore, notes that competing to be the ‘best parent’ or bringing up the ‘number one kid’ can do more harm than good for your child.

Examples of “unhealthy competitive parenting” include: requesting for your child to be the main character in the school performance or a key player in the sports team, aiming to be the best-dressed child for school events, subtly hinting to other parents that your child is enrolled in the most number of enrichment programmes or best possible programmes, or throwing a birthday party that outshines all other parties.

“Healthy ‘competition’ is one where a child is encouraged to improve himself/herself according to his/her last level of achievement, developed towards his/her natural strengths and pitched at a level that is not too low or too high,” says Mrs Shashi.

Dr John Lim, director of Singapore Counselling Centre, adds that parents should avoid training their children just to beat others merely in grades, as this does not necessarily mean the child is realising his potential.

Instead, children should enjoy the learning process and develop a healthy curiosity and thirst for knowledge as this enables them to excel academically without the negative stress and peer pressure.

“Parents should be more concerned about their children’s fortitude and resilience in the face of challenges and difficulties as the child is then well able to realise his or her potential,” he says.

It is natural for parents to want the best for their children, but there is a fine line between that and going out of the way to be competitive.

To rectify such an unhealthy competitive drive, parents must first recognise the signs.

Mrs Shashi lists a few of them - using your child’s achievements as a measure of your own self-worth; you are highly successful and cannot accept anything less; constantly worrying that your child will not be happy with a mediocre life; you see your career being worthwhile only if its helps you to support and develop a ‘number one kid’.

“By resolving the unhealthy reasons behind over-competitiveness, it will ease the pressure of having to be the best parent and your child having to be the winner most of the time,” says Mrs Shashi.

“Ways of resolving include raising self-awareness, seeking therapeutic help if necessary and gathering more knowledge about the effects of competitive parenting.”

Your children may have to pay the price if you do not care about the consequences of competitive parenting.

“Competitive parents exert undue stress on the children,” says Dr Lim, adding that this can lead to poor self-esteem, depression and even resentment towards the parents and the school.

“This stifles the child’s creative and learning capacity. Children do best when they enjoy what they do,” he adds.

“Children under undue stress can develop unhealthy coping mechanisms and this can result in complicated debilitating issues.”

One 21st century creation that has contributed to parenting being more competitive is social media. Parents are constantly bombarded with posts about picture-perfect families and the joys of parenthood, while skirting around the evident difficult moments that every parent faces.

As a result, some parents might feel that what they give their children is not enough and try to compensate by raising their expectations and eventually becoming more competitive, says Mrs Shashi.

“One way of getting around such scenarios is to start trends of posting pictures of all the trips, including the exotic trip, the Pulau Ubin trip and the trip to the open playground downstairs,” she suggests.

“Maybe we can also start sharing both our proud and down moments of parenthood, the struggles that are equally present as the joyful moments.

“Parents should be confident of their own parenting skills, that they are doing enough for their child no matter what others are doing or not doing for theirs,” she adds. “It will also be helpful to focus more on your child’s development than their results.”

Dr Lim advises parents who are not competitive but are surrounded by parents not to be affected by them.

“Let those ‘kiasu’ parents be,” he says.

“You should focus on the emotional health of your child and encouraging your child to enjoy the learning process.”

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