Hong RY, Lee SS, Chng RY, Zhou Y, Tsai FF, Tan SH. Developmental Trajectories
of Maladaptive Perfectionism in Middle Childhood. J Pers. 2016 Feb 25. doi:
10.1111/jopy.12249. [Epub ahead of print]
The developmental trajectories of maladaptive perfectionism, along with their consequences and origins, were examined in middle childhood.
A sample of Singaporean children and their parents (N = 302) were recruited for a longitudinal study when the children were 7 years old. Subsequent follow-up assessments were made at ages 8, 9, and 11. A multimethod approach was adopted where parent reports, child reports, and observational data on a dyadic interaction task were obtained.
Using latent class growth modeling, four distinct classes were obtained for critical self-oriented perfectionism (SOP-C) whereas two classes emerged for socially-prescribed perfectionism (SPP). Children with high and/or increasing SOP-C and SPP trajectories constituted 60% and 78% of the sample, respectively. For both SOP-C and SPP, trajectories with high initial status were associated with higher internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Parental intrusiveness and negative parenting predicted high and/or increasing SOP-C trajectories whereas the child temperament dimension of surgency predicted high SPP trajectory. Both SOP-C and SPP trajectories tended to co-occur, suggesting a mutually-reinforcing process.
This study yields important findings that help advance current understanding on the emergence and developmental pathways of maladaptive perfectionism in children.
Children who have intrusive parents are more likely to be overly critical of themselves, according to a study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
It also found that this tendency increased over the years.
Children in the study who demonstrated high or increased levels of being self-critical also showed elevated symptoms of depression or anxiety.
"When parents become intrusive in their children's lives, it may signal to the children that what they do is never good enough," said Assistant Professor Ryan Hong, who led the study, which was conducted by a team of researchers from the Department of Psychology at NUS' Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
"The child may become afraid of making the slightest mistake and will blame himself or herself for not being 'perfect'," he explained.
Over time, such behaviour, known as maladaptive perfectionism, may be harmful to the child's well-being as it increases the risk of depression, anxiety and even suicide in the most serious cases, he added….
Parental intrusiveness was assessed in the first year of the study using a game.
In the game, the child had to solve puzzles within a time limit, and the parent was told that he or she could help the child whenever necessary. The purpose of this task was to observe whether the parent interfered with the child's problem-solving attempts, regardless of the child's actual needs.
Researchers observed the participants' behaviours, and coded intrusive behaviours exhibited by the parents.
Subsequent assessments on the children were carried out at ages eight, nine and 11.
An analysis of the data showed that about 60 per cent of the children were classified as high and/or increasing in self-criticalness, while 78 per cent were classified as high in socially prescribed perfectionism. Both aspects of maladaptive perfectionism tend to occur together, with 59 per cent of the children having both self-criticalness and socially prescribed perfectionism.
"Our findings indicate that in a society that emphasises academic excellence, which is the situation in Singapore, parents may set unrealistically high expectations for their children," said Assistant Prof Hong.
"As a result, a sizable segment of children may become fearful of making mistakes. Also, because they are supposed to be 'perfect', they can become disinclined to admit failures and inadequacies and seek help when needed, further exacerbating their risk for emotional problems," he added.
He advised parents to be mindful of not pushing their children over the edge.
"Children should be given a conducive environment to learn, and part of learning always involves making mistakes and learning from them. When parents become intrusive, they may take away this conducive learning environment."
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