HERE'S a note home to parents who insist their children's homework has the i's dotted, t's crossed, margins straight and everything just right. Chill out. You're probably doing more harm than good.
A Sydney study's finding potentially puts a hex on the helicopter approach and grabs tiger mothers by the tail. Perfectionist parenting produces poorer offspring performance, according to research by Jennifer Hudson and colleagues at Macquarie University's centre for emotional health.
They tested 75 children at a copying task. The children were randomly selected to do the task under either perfectionist or non-perfectionist rearing conditions, in the study's jargon. About half the group had been diagnosed with anxiety and the other half had not.
Whether the children were anxious or not, when their parents were relaxed and hands off, they performed better. When their parents were interventionist and pre-occupied about mistakes, the children became more perfectionistic themselves but performed worse.
The chilled-out children - ''non-anxious in the non- perfectionistic rearing condition'' - strove least but did best.
''The implication of the finding is, if you focus on the child's mistakes and focus on getting it right, that is going to have the reverse outcome. It is better to support the child in doing what they can, but not on getting it exactly right,'' Associate Professor Hudson said.
That approach seems to have worked for Anita and Michael Axe, of North Ryde, whose son Jarrod made the All Rounders list for top level results in 10 or more units in the 2012 HSC. Younger sister Sahmiha, in Year 11, describes his score of 98.85 as ''just insane''. She'll settle for over 90.
After the couple decided Anita would put her career on ice to raise the children, she put her degree in social work with ''a lot of child psychology'' into practice at home. ''It wasn't about pointing out mistakes, it was allowing them the opportunity to practise and making practice fun,'' Mrs Axe said.
Her attitude was, ''If you get it wrong that's OK, but we are here to help you get it right,'' she said.
''They have always made it clear they were available,'' said Jarrod, ''but never tried to pry or be too overbearing. I think that really helped me self-motivate.'' Jarrod went to Epping Boys High School and will soon start electrical engineering at the University of NSW.
A dose of motivational competition did no harm either, according to his father Michael, a chemical engineer.
Before Jarrod did the HSC, ''In a playful and competitive way I pointed out, 'Oh you know, you are doing pretty well, but you better do better than me, otherwise I will be pointing it out to you forever.''
The Macquarie University research, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, used mothers only because ''they tend to be more available for research sessions'', Associate Professor Hudson said.