Parental pressure may come from good intentions, but it can hamper a child’s self-esteem.

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Most parents want their children to be happy and successful. But our own definitions of happiness and success may not ring true for our children.

It can be hard to remember that your child is their own person — not an extension or a reflection of you.

Certain parenting experiences might prompt you to pressure your kids to make different choices, such as when:

  • your child struggles with something that came easily to you
  • your child makes different life decisions than you did
  • your child chooses friends who you think are poor influences

You may feel that your own choices could make their lives easier, more successful, or earn you the admiration of other parents in your circle.

Whatever your motives, the pressure you put on your child can be devastating to them and hurt your relationship, as well.

Exercising parental authority without being authoritarian is often the best way to release the pressure from your relationship.

Parental pressure is emotional stress parents impose upon their children and is often related to:

  • academic performance
  • sports or other extracurricular activities
  • cultural or social standards
  • appearance
  • friendships
  • romantic relationships

One 2020 study indicated that pressure imposed by family members can be the most impactful form of stress on teenagers’ mental health.

There are two main forms of parental pressure: direct pressure and indirect pressure.

Direct pressure often involves yelling, force, or complaining. Indirect pressure may involve guilt-tripping your child or reminding them of rigid expectations.

Excessive or inappropriate parental pressure carries many mental health consequences for kids as they grow up.

Data from a 2015 study suggested that children who grow up with parents who yelled, shouted, or verbally humiliated them may have a greater likelihood of experiencing challenges into adulthood, including:

Depression and negative self-talk

Verbal criticism by parents may also be linked to depression in children.

When parents use insults or critical language to interact with children, they may turn that criticism on themselves and engage in negative self-talk. “I’m stupid,” they might say to themselves, or “I’m fat,” or, “I’ll never do anything right.”

Children raised in this dynamic often withdraw attention and affection. And when this happens, you may withhold affection and attention, too — whether you realize it or not.

Eating disorders and body image

Kids of all genders, and especially adolescents, who are teased or pressured about their weight by family members may be at a higher risk for developing eating disorders, according to 2022 research.

According to a 2021 study of non-Hispanic Black children in the United States, kids whose food or weight was monitored by parents may have a higher body mass index (BMI).

Poor academic performance

Consistently negative parenting — particularly when parents guilt-tripped children — led to poor performance in school, one 2022 study suggested.

Children who perceived their parents as authoritarian worked less hard in school and demonstrated less resilience when they failed a test or class, another 2022 study found.

Parents might feel the need to pressure their children for many reasons.

According to a 2021 study, 86% of parents who participated said that they pressured their kids because they grew up with distant or negligent parents and wanted to pay more attention to their own children.

Guilt — often stemming from big life disruptions like moves or divorces — was another reason cited. Participants reported that they feared being neglectful during those upheavals, and they overcompensated with parental pressure.

Parental pressure often starts with good intentions. Of course, you want your child to be successful, have friends, and do well in school. But sometimes, you might not realize that you’re pressuring your kids excessively.

Here are some tips to consider for encouraging your child without engaging in unhealthy parental pressure.

Use praise more than criticism

Criticism drawing attention to your child’s mistakes or behaviors that bother you can cause your child’s defenses to go up, perpetuating what originally sparked the criticism.

Instead, try praising your child for what they do well. One 2017 study suggests working your way up to offering four times more praise than criticism.

Parenting with praise may boost your child’s confidence and improve your child’s academic performance, reinforcing their belief that they can do the work and be successful at it.

Focus on health, not appearance

Avoid teasing or criticizing your child about their weight or appearance. These types of behaviors are strongly tied the development of eating disorders in young adults.

Monitoring or restricting food can backfire, leading your child to adopt unhealthy habits and hide them from you.

Instead, swap discussing weight or body image in favor of encouraging healthy habits, like eating enough nutritious foods and exercising.

Don’t do your child’s work for them

You might be tempted to intervene in your child’s life out of a sense of duty or control, such as:

  • asking your child’s teachers for extra credit
  • scolding a classmate who hurt your child’s feelings
  • hiding or restricting access to food

But 2022 research suggests that if you help make your child feel capable, they’ll be more motivated to solve problems in the future.

Consider talking with your child about solutions to their problems without attempting to solve them yourself.

Set rules, not ultimatums

Authoritative parenting — rather than authoritarian parenting — is tied to high self-esteem in children. When parents are overly controlling, children can lose faith in themselves and their ability to do things or listen to their own feelings.

Instead of telling your child that it’s your way or the highway, try setting house rules with their input and enforce them consistently.

Validate your child’s feelings

It’s easy to assume that your child is a smaller extension of you who feels the same way you do about the same things.

But when you give credence to your child’s feelings instead of seeking to control them — even when they’re not the same as yours — you acknowledge that they’re their own person.

Validating your child’s feelings and keeping communication about emotions open and honest can help your child learn to trust their gut in life.

Parental pressure, rather than encouragement, can have a profound effect on a child’s mental health and self-esteem.

Kids who grow up with excessive parental pressure may experience:

  • depression
  • negative self-talk
  • eating disorders
  • trouble in school
  • aggression and anger management issues
  • difficulty maintaining relationships

Excessive parental pressure is often linked to a parent’s perception of success in different areas of life, such as:

  • academics
  • athletics and sports
  • social life and friends
  • appearance
  • religious or cultural activities

Parental pressure doesn’t always stem from a bad place. Parents often have good intentions but don’t know how to stay involved with their child — especially in the adolescent and teen years — without applying pressure. In fact, you may not even know that you’re pressuring your child.

However, if you catch yourself pressuring your child, there are ways to pivot to healthy encouragement.

It’s important to remember that your child is their own person. They may make decisions or react to situations differently than you might.

Try to listen to what your child wants. Validate their feelings, but communicate how you feel, as well. Then, you can work together on a solution that doesn’t involve invalidating your child’s emotions.

If you still feel like you may need help, consider reaching out to a therapist. Check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support to get started.