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Parents Have Unrealistic Academic Expectations

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: How do you handle a situation when a parent expects too much from a child academically? The child is a first grader and is a very bright child but at home he gets very emotional when he doesn't perform at the 100% level in schoolwork. It appears he is afraid he won't do well. What affect will this have on the child?

A: Parents who make unrealistic demands and/or have unrealistic expectations of their kids academically, or in any other sphere of their lives, risk seeing their kids' mental, emotional and physical well being severely compromised. Children under this kind of pressure often begin to refuse to attempt anything unless they are convinced that they will be the best at it. They fear being perceived by their parents as imperfect. I have counseled many academically bright kids whose parents' unrealistically high academic expectations have caused them to stop trying in school -- to the point of academic failure. They reason, "It's better to be known as a smart kid who isn't living up to his potential rather than a kid who can't achieve the high academic standards his parents insist upon regardless of how hard he tries." It's a life of fear, sadness and low self-worth to know that your best efforts might never be good enough for your parents -- that you, in fact, are not good enough for your parents.

Parents who put this kind of unhealthy pressure on their kids need to have discussions with teachers and counselors about the negative consequences of their unrealistic expectations. Their child might be doing well academically, but this does not mean their parenting approach is correct.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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