Is academic pressure the right approach?

Whatever grade your child might be in, the pressure is on to perform so that they can achieve the desired marks in readiness for next year. How much academic pressure are you consciously or unconsciously placing upon your children ? Are you creating anxiety and stress?  If so, is it really necessary and does it work?

2020 and all it’s been…

2020 has been topsy turvy to say the least … and gruelling in many ways. Yes, we acknowledge and appreciate some of the gifts and opportunities we had in the chaos, unfamiliarity and hardships. But, there’s been a truckload of collective trauma too and we’re only seeing the real fallout of that now. 

Most of us have been in survival mode. We went into the shock of “fight or flight” and powered through. I agree kids are resilient and seem to have adapted well to a year of uncertainty, a tech-based world,  the disappointment of cancelled celebrations, missed birthday parties, playdates and more.

Like many, I strived to keep my family mentally and physically well, whilst coping with my own Corona illness, the stress of close relatives being ill, and my wellness practice too. Of course, all this while doing my best to guide and supervise the children’s schoolwork.

Yet in the face of  online learning and the many challenges it presented, away from the usual structures of school and the warmth of the face-to-face interactions of a classroom, it just seemed completely counter-intuitive to push my kids. In fact I noticed that when I did badger them, it only created anxiety and resistance.

Life lessons and academic pressure

Coronatime is a lesson for life. This year has highlighted the cracks and the shadows in the school system:  Schools and some parents normalise the intense academic pressure that pupils are under—a pressure that did not let up during Covid-19. Schools needed to justify their expense and complete their syllabus when the kids weren’t physically at school and were concerned about their standards slipping. This eggs parents to turn up the pressure.

Where was the focus on the mental health of children? Were we placing as much importance on this during the pandemic as on marks and still doing well at school?

Just as employees were expected to be as productive at their jobs (if not more!) despite the entire world being upended, so too, kids have been expected to just keep up the pace despite it all. I believe in resilience but I also think we need to alter our expectations to be in line with reality. And the reality is that kids are little humans, “sovereign beings” as parenting specialist, clinical psychologist Dr Shefali calls them, whose lives have also been totally topsy turvy.

Coronatime presented us with an opportunity to examine  deeply the high stakes placed upon marks, success and achievement. It requires us to reimagine our ideas of success and happiness, and this may not comfortable. Yes, education is paramount, it should be a non-negotiable in our society. But, the stress and academic pressure of Matric year for example, is ridiculous. Statistics of teen suicide are rising, as is the prevalence of children taking anti-anxiety medication and other medicines. And we, who have the means, rush our kids from appointment to extra mural to tutoring, striving to make sure they’re “successful”. Clearly, something isn’t working.

The solution: Conscious Parenting 

We need to evolve and shift to a new parenting paradigm.

When we tell our children that they need to work hard to get a good job, or to make money or be successful, and breed competitiveness with others into their makeup, we’re trying to motivate through extrinsic motivation that comes from anxiety. We’re buying into the fallacy, brainwashed by the traditional parenting that maintains our kids are creatures to be created, fixed, curated and controlled.

All too often when we push our kids with our agendas, prescriptions and schedules, it’s because of our own unmet needs and expectations, and it happens at the expense of a true, deep connection with our kids. The need for your child to become a doctor or get into a good university is about you, and is a fear-based desire.

We need to evolve and shift to a new parenting paradigm.

When we say we want our kids to do well so that they can happy, what we really mean is we want them to be successful. This causes anxiety and stress. Our obsession with happiness creates unhappiness. Life is full of ups and downs and can be painful. We need to be able to accept life as it is, to be comfortable with uncomfortable feelings that can then become a portal for growth. When we teach kids that they’re capable of dealing with big feelings, we don’t have to fix their pain, which is intolerable for us.

We need to evolve and shift to a new parenting paradigm.

I’ve witnessed with my own kids that intrinsic motivation  works best. To help your child actualise their potential, their true needs first need to be met. When they want to work at school for themselves, not for us, and out of a passion for learning, not out of fear, this is true success. This idea may be unconventional, but I wholeheartedly believe that this way of parenting will result in more whole beings:  adults with less childhood trauma, who are able to express their true gifts in a world that sorely needs them.

Use Dr Shefali’s approach to academic pressure

Above all, says Dr Shefali, far more important to them than getting all A’s on their report, kids need to know:

  • Am I seen? For their essence, not for their achievements, not for what they do, but who they inherently are.
  • Am I worthy? Is who I am worthy of your attention/ validation/praise
  • Do I matter? Am I significant, important, do I create impact in your life?

To do this, we need to ease the academic pressure and change our focus:

  • Shift your way of thinking about academic success. Courageously get rid of your ego and attune to what they need. Let them take the lead instead of superimposing your wishes onto them.
  • Change the belief that you have to be in control and that you have to raise a “successful” child (doesn’t it feel good to take that pressure off yourself?)
  • Connection before correction.
  • Heal yourself and raise yourself before you raise the child. Deal with your own childhood trauma. Parents who consciously become whole raise self-esteemed and resilient kids.
  • Kids are neither good or bad, they just are.
  • See every moment with your children as a teacher and an opportunity for growth and a co-creation of true connection.
  • Recognise how the academic pressure you place on them comes from a place of fear
  • Emphasise the process of learning and trying over marks and outcome.
  • Validate your child’s feelings and fears instead of trying to fix them.
  • Expand your emotional toolkit from anger, fear and control to compassion, gratitude, humour, engagement and empathy.

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Nikki Temkin

Nikki Temkin

Nikki Temkin is a functional health and wellness coach in Johannesburg. She helps clients recover from anxiety, stress, burnout and other health conditions to achieve balance, joy, vitality and wellbeing. Follow Nikki on Instagram and Facebook.

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One Response

  1. I agree completely with this. The year has been trying in so many ways. What I find even more exhausting, is that the school system has kept the same standard of assessments in place – with the expectation that children will somehow meet these without six months of effective teaching. A couple weeks ago, we received a note indicating one of our children might not progress to the next grade. It just seems so unreasonable, and the making of another silent national disaster.

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