6 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Themselves Before Telling Their Kids to 'Try harder'

If children come to feel like trophies, they start to feel they are valued not for who they are, but for what they do and how good they make you look, breeding unhappiness.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Parents today understandably feel under more pressure than ever to get their kids ahead in today's hothouse atmosphere.

But I believe we adults would question how hard we push if we looked into the future and viewed our relationship with our children 20 years down the line. Indeed, a recent Missouri University study confirms what I've said in my new book Taming the Tiger Parent: Kids with pressuring parents distance themselves from their parents later in life. They feel that parental love is conditional and based on their success, and they resent our input. To save themselves the pain of feeling that they always disappoint us, no matter what they do, they disconnect.

In a challenging world, kids have never needed their connection with us more. Want to jump off the competitive bandwagon today so you stay close to your kids tomorrow?

Simply ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I believe my kids need to toughen up because it's a tough world out there?

Educationalist Alfie Kohn coined the acronym BGUTI -- for "Better Get Used to It" -- to describe the current educational trend towards testing children all the time and making those tests ever harder.

The philosophy behind this is that life is competitive, and there's lots more stress and exams to come, so we'd better toughen children up as soon as possible.

However, children don't get better at dealing with hard knocks just because they get exposed to them earlier.

Instead, they can become test-phobic and anxious. They may brand themselves winners or losers before they've had the chance to work out their own strengths and weaknesses.

They will only develop the inner strength they need to cope later if they are allowed a happy, stress-free childhood first.

2. Do I believe it's my child versus the world?

One of the most pernicious ways in which competitive parenting has made our society more brutal is that parents tend to view all children as rivals to their own.

But training your kids to treat every classmate as a potential adversary can make the world a very lonely place to grow up in.

It's a cliché, but we can't afford to lose sight of the fact that it takes a village to raise a child.
For one thing, most children prefer a general atmosphere of cooperation and teamwork. In party games, young children will often complain that they wish everyone could win.

Furthermore, if you support and encourage other people's children, other people's children will support and encourage yours.

3. Do I believe I am a success if my child is?

This belief really took parents by the throat in the '70s and '80s, when parents started seeing themselves as completely responsible for how their children turned out. Gradually, this sense of responsibility morphed into parents taking complete credit for their children's successes.

Children are not born to make their parents feel good about themselves. They come into the world to grow and learn within the safe environment of the family -- and to become independent adults.

If children come to feel like trophies, they start to feel they are valued not for who they are, but for what they do and how good they make you look, breeding unhappiness.

4. Do I believe I am a success, therefore my child must be?

No matter how high-achieving you are, there are no guarantees your child will arrive on the planet with the same talents and drive. Free your child from expectations about what they ought to be, based on what heritage, class or gene pool they come from. Some of greatest damage happens when parents feel 'entitled' to a certain type of child -- and get disappointed when their sons or daughters do not meet those preconceptions.

5. When was the last time I saw my kids looking truly carefree?

If you can't remember, then you won't need any more convincing something has to change.

Taming the Tiger Parent: How to put your child's well-being first in a competitive world is published by Constable/Little Brown and available on Amazon.