Many parents find themselves drawn to the idea that with just a bit more parental elbow grease, we might turn out children with great talents and assured futures. This raises the question: Is there anything wrong with over parenting?
Decades of studies have found that the optimal parent is one who is responsive ,involved, who sets high expectations and respects child’s autonomy. These parents appear to hit the sweet spot of parental involvement and generally raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are less involved, permissive , or controlling and more involved.
Authoritative parents actually help cultivate motivation in their children. Authoritative parents raise more motivated, and thus more successful, children.
In a typical experiment, young children are put into a room and asked to solve a simple puzzle. Most do so with little difficulty. Then some of the children are told how very bright and capable they are. As it turns out, the children who are not told they’re smart are more motivated to tackle increasingly difficult puzzles. They also exhibit higher levels of confidence and show greater overall progress in puzzle-solving.
Praising children’s abilities and talents seems to rattle their confidence. The child who receives the praise may think tackling more difficult puzzles carries the risk of losing one’s status as “smart” and deprives kids of the thrill of choosing to work regardless of outcomes. Reasonably supporting a child’s autonomy and limiting interference results in better academic and emotional outcomes.
The most successful happiest children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parents do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child.
If you treat your walking toddler as if she can’t walk, you diminish her confidence and distort reality. Ditto nightly “reviews” of homework, repetitive phone calls to checking in and writing or editing your child’s college application essay.
Once your child is capable of doing something, congratulate yourself on a job well done and move on letting the child do for themselves. Continued, unnecessary intervention makes your child feel bad about himself or angry at you and in the long run can cripple them latter in adulthood having a mentality of someone else should do it for me or a lazy mind set.
Think back to when your toddler learned to walk. The child would take a step or two then collapse and immediately look to you for your reaction. You were in thrall to those early attempts and would do everything possible to encourage for your child to get up again. You certainly didn’t chastise your child for failing or utter dire predictions about flipping burgers for the rest of his or her life if she fell again. You were present, alert and available to guide if necessary. But you didn’t pick your child up every time. You knew that your child had to get it wrong many times before he or she could get it right.
One of the greatest challenges of parenting is hanging back and allowing children to make mistakes. It’s easier when they’re young. The potential mistakes carry greater risks, and part of being a parent is minimizing risk for our children.
If there’s a predator loose in the neighborhood, your child doesn’t get to go to the mall. But under normal circumstances an 11-year-old girl is quite capable of taking care of themselves for a few hours in the company of friends. She may forget a package, overpay for an item or forget that she was supposed to call home at noon. Mastery of the world is an expanding geography for our kids and is where growth takes place. In this gray area of just beyond the comfortable is where resilience is born.
The small challenges that start in infancy present the opportunity for “successful failures,” that is, failures your child can live with and grow from. To rush in too quickly, to shield them, to deprive them of those challenges is to deprive them of the tools they will need to handle the inevitable, difficult, challenging and sometimes devastating demands of life.
While doing things for your child unnecessarily or prematurely can reduce motivation and increase dependency that is permanent it also forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a self identity.
It is psychological control that damages a child’s developing identity. If pushing, direction, motivation and reward always come from the outside, the child never has the opportunity to craft an inside. Having tutors prep your anxious 3-year-old for a preschool interview because all your friends’ children are going to this particular school or pushing your exhausted child to take one more advanced-placement course because it will ensure her spot as class valedictorian is not involved parenting but toxic overparenting aimed at meeting the parents’ need for status or affirmation and not the child’s needs.
We must remember as parents that children thrive best in an environment that is reliable, available, consistent and noninterfering.
A loving parent is warm, willing to set limits and unwilling to breach a child’s psychological boundaries by invoking shame or guilt. Parents must acknowledge their own anxiety. Your job is to know your child well enough to make a good call about whether he can manage a particular situation. The child’s job is to grow, yours is to control your anxiety so it doesn’t get in the way of his reasonable moves toward autonomy.
Parents also have to be clear about their own values because Children watch us closely. If you want your children to be able to stand up for their values, you have to do the same. Parents also have to make sure their own lives are fulfilling. There is no parent more vulnerable to the excesses of overparenting than an unhappy parent. One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.
Photo – Luxt Design via Flickr