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Your Parenting Style May Be Hurting Your Kids

By Julie Vargo, Editorial Contributor

If children came with a parenting manual, raising them would be a lot easier. Parents would realize challenges actually are growth opportunities.

“As parents, we want what’s best for our children while helping them build confidence and life skills,” says Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. “But some recent parenting styles actually shield kids from life lessons and stymie growth.”

Problematic Parenting Styles

With labels like “helicopter,” “lawnmower” and “bulldozer,” these parenting philosophies are a 21st century phenomenon that focus on obsessively controlling the younger generation’s lives. Parents pack their tyke’s days full of lessons, tutors and traveling sports teams. They intervene with high school coaches on behalf of their student athletes, call their college-age kids to make sure they don’t miss class and even contact employers when their young adult child has a work issue.

Though well-meaning, micromanaging parents can create more problems than they solve. “Parents assume helping their child complete a task instead of letting them do it on their own will prevent disappointments,” says Dr. Moorjani. “But when you do everything for them, your children never learn.”

Why Hovering Hurts

No one wants to see their child struggle, feel unhappy or fail. But too much parental involvement can thwart the launch into adulthood.

Children who never learn to cope with disappointment or failure are ill-equipped to handle life’s grown-up pitfalls. A parent who steps in every time their child doesn’t “win” creates a sense of entitlement. Micromanagement tells your children you don’t trust they can succeed on their own.  

Not making the varsity sports team, losing the spelling bee or getting a low grade on a test are vital teaching moments. “Without tough experiences, children don’t learn how to adapt to life’s curveballs,” says Dr. Moorjani.

Hypervigilant parenting can create kids who are less resilient, are unwilling to take risks, lack coping skill and can’t make their own decisions. When parents clear paths and remove obstacles, their children often are unable to handle failure, solve problems independently or advocate for themselves. Some simply quit instead of settling for second best. Still others don’t believe they’re good enough to accomplish things on their own, so they don’t try.

What’s a Parent to Do?

Whenever possible, step back and let your child tackle tasks themselves. Build confidence and self-assurance by discussing activities they want to do. Let them choose daily age-appropriate household chores. Hold them accountable. Make sure your child’s schedule includes time for play and relaxation.

“Free time can lead to boredom, which is a wonderful thing,” says Dr. Moorjani. “Unstructured time helps kids make their own decisions on how to resolve their boredom. This leads to more self-reliance, creativity and play.

“It’s still possible to provide love, support and safety while allowing children to struggle and learn new skills on their own,” she adds. “And so important.”

A Look at the Labels

Helicopter Parents: Most often parents of younger children, these helicopters hover constantly around their tykes and dive in to "rescue" them whenever they're in trouble.

  • Overprotective and over-involved

  • Makes decisions for their child

  • Does tasks their children are capable of accomplishing

  • Chooses a child’s activities, with little or no input from their child

Lawnmower Parents: More aggressive than helicopter parents, these moms and dads mow down all discomfort, challenge or struggle, saving their child from any inconvenience or problem.

  • Strives to “take care of everything” for the child

  • Makes repeated efforts to eliminate any and all struggles

  • Helps with and may actually do their child’s work themselves

  • Double-checks to make sure everything is correct

Bulldozer Parents: The most obsessive, these parents never let challenges arise, plowing down obstacles like pain, difficulty or even people out of their children’s path to success. They take responsibility and credit for their youngsters’ achievements or disappointments.

  • Asks for and expects special allowances for their child

  • Blames others when things go wrong for their child

  • Never accepts anything less than first place for their child

  • Doesn’t want their child to struggle

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