As parents, it’s natural to want the best for our kids. But there’s a line between being supportive and overparenting, and many of us struggle to strike that balance.
Most natural minded parents are nurturing and involved. We follow our instincts and respond to our child’s every need since it’s necessary for survival when they are infants. And we can be controlling in our vigilance in avoiding toxic products and excess junk foods. On the flip side, we might be more lenient when it comes to letting our kids get dirty and take measured risks out in nature.
But overall, as kids grow, overprotective parenting or hovering can negatively affect their development. So, how do we know when we are parenting too much?
What is Overparenting?
Have you found yourself doing things for your child that they could probably do themselves? Do you ever think you might be stuck in a loop of doing too much for your kids? It’s hard to let our kids go and let them learn on their own sometimes.
While labeling parents with terms like “helicopter” or “lawnmower” can lead to judgment, it’s helpful to realize if you’re asserting too much control over your child.
Overparenting is asserting too much assistance and control to a child when they are developmentally able to learn the life skill themselves.
A strong commitment to attachment parenting can tip into overparenting, and it can be tricky to know when to pull back and let your kids learn on their own.
Signs of Overparenting
You might be overparenting if you find yourself doing some of these things:
- Tying your child’s shoes when they are old enough to do it on their own.
- Helping your child get dressed into the grade school years.
- Doing all of the house chores and cleaning up after everyone. Kids can do chores from the time they are toddlers.
- Bringing homework, lunches, instruments, etc… to school when they forget them.
- Doing their school projects, homework, college admissions paperwork, or essays for them.
- Stepping in and rescuing them every time they face a challenge.
- Not letting children, especially teens, make their own choices and decisions.
- Asking a teacher to fix their bad grade.
- Texting coaches after a game to find out why your child didn’t play as much as you’d like.
These are part of daily life for overinvolved parents. We train ourselves to not let our infants feel discomfort or hardship, but as children grow it is not our job to overprotect them so they never feel frustration or difficulty.
If we grow as they grow, our job becomes to help them cope with difficulty and hardship when it eventually happens. It is our job to be their soft landing place when they make mistakes and learn to figure things out on their own.
To me, this process of letting go is harder than meeting their needs round the clock when they were infants. But soon enough they’ll be out of the nest, and they need these essential life skills as adults in the world.
Attachment Parenting vs Overparenting
Is it possible to overdo it when it comes to parenting? The concept of overparenting can feel counterintuitive, especially if you followed an attachment parenting style when your children were infants.
Some celebrities follow AP, but it’s often assumed that kids of the rich and famous are “spoiled”. And as far as I know, Mayim Bialik is one of the only celebrities to talk about raising her kids via Attachment Parenting.
In building a secure attachment with an infant, we respond to their needs. We don’t let them “cry it out,” we hold them close as much as possible so their heartbeats are regulated by our own. It feels so natural and intuitive.
My babies slept by my side and I’d wake up by the sounds of their lips smacking before they even cried to be fed. (This doesn’t mean they didn’t cry. Believe me, they did!)
But, I was in tune with and responsive to their needs. I held, rocked, nursed, and suffered, so they would always know I was there for them.
This connection didn’t stop as they grew, and I don’t feel like it can be broken even now as they are teens and young adults out navigating the world. However, at times it has been hard to know when attachment parenting ends and overparenting begins.
Shift Your Mindset
As a parent, you get used to setting your own needs aside for the survival and comfort of your children. Attachment parenting is one way to give our infants the security to thrive, but how do we know when to let them go a little so they can learn life’s beauty and hardships for themselves?
This is a mindset shift. I see it as an extension of attachment parenting, as a way for our children to learn to be secure in themselves. As parents, we need to grow as our babies grow.
From a developmental perspective, attachment parenting is meeting the emotional and developmental needs of our infants since they can’t meet their own needs. Their brains and nervous systems and motor skills are all too immature to regulate or feed themselves. Developmentally, infants need us.
Eventually, our babies grow. A securely attached child should have confidence and independence, right? Attachment parenting can actually make them more independent in the long run.
But finding a balance between when to help them and when to step back can be tricky as kids grow up. If we over-respond and do everything for them that they could learn to do themselves, we are actually hindering their development.
The Effects of Overparenting
It is so important to respond to children’s needs in a developmentally appropriate way. Helicopter parents, or parents of teens who handle everything for them, are doing a disservice to their children.
In her book How to Raise an Adult, former dean of students at Stanford, Julie Lythcott-Haims, shares stories about young people who can get accepted into a prestigious school but can’t handle basic life skills. From her perspective as a mother and from her job, she highlights how overparenting harms children.
A hovering parent or helicopter parent can have a negative effect on a growing child’s mental health, and this can last into adulthood. Here are some possible negative effects of overparenting a child:
- Risk-averse mentality
- Fixed mindset instead of growth mindset
- Low sense of competence
- Narcissistic traits
- Low Self-esteem
- Inhibited confidence
As they become college students and young adults, these overparented children can feel a sense of entitlement and lack problem-solving skills. They’re also prone to dysfunctional emotion-focused coping strategies.
Tips to Overcome Overparenting Tendencies
1. Encourage Real Life Skills
After raising my oldest who was developmentally delayed, I gained a very good grip on building my children’s confidence by letting them do what they were capable of and letting them try too-hard tasks so they could grow.
Kids are capable of so much, and it builds their self-esteem to feel responsible and complete tasks on their own. By stepping in every time something is hard for them, they won’t develop what I’ve always called their “figure it out skills.”
It was hard for me to learn to hold myself back from doing everything for my oldest son, but his development relied on it. He had to do things himself to pave the pathways in his brain. It just took longer and was more messy than typically developing children.
He worked incredibly hard to master every developmental milestone that comes naturally to most babies and toddlers, and I learned to sit on my hands and say “You can figure it out.” and “You can do this buddy!” And honestly? He’s my most resilient child now because of it.
When it came time for him to go to high school and he didn’t like the dress code, he spoke to the principal about it himself. When it was time to fill out college information, he did it all on his own and then brought me my part to fill out.
He applied for his own job and wore a tuxedo to his first interview. I began to question his outfit choice as he was walking out the door, but then I pulled back. I knew I needed to let him do his own thing. He got the job, so my hindering questions weren’t relevant.
These life skills to make choices, figure things out, do things wrong, and find out where they can succeed anyway, are irreplaceable opportunities for kids to learn how to become fully functioning adults.
I certainly don’t want to take away any life experience from my kids, even if it’s difficult to watch them sometimes. Your children’s practical life skills will be learned while you sit on your hands, cheer them on, and make a soft landing place when they need it.
2. Be a Rebel
There are some parts of the country where the community is very supportive of overparenting. I’ve lived in neighborhoods where it practically feels like a contest of who does the most for their kids.
Once you recognize this, I urge you to unsubscribe from the common belief that doing everything for your children is the best way to show love. In truth, overparenting is often not what kids need.
Be a rebel and let your kids be people who experience good days, bad days, failures, successes, loves, losses, and everything in between. Depending on your community, other parents may not agree with you, and that’s ok.
3. Avoid Too Much Involvement
If something is challenging for your child, don’t rescue them. These are where the life skills of figuring things out as they go will be built.
If a teacher gave them a bad grade they don’t agree with, let them talk to the teacher or choose not to.
If they are having an issue with their friend, don’t immediately call the friend’s mom and smooth it over. Help give your child the language and empower them to talk to the friend themselves, and give them the option to walk away when necessary.
If your child needs to write a college entry essay, give them the time and space and let them do it on their own. Let them know if they have questions, you’re open to them asking.
Let your child learn to make their own choices when they are young enough to still be living with you. Consider what their need is, and respond to and support their developmental needs without taking over the task for them.
4. Allow Natural Consequences
Natural Consequences is one of the best teachers of life skills. If they forget their homework and get a zero in the grade book, they’re less likely to continue to forget future homework.
If your teen spends all of their money in their bank account on a new video game and doesn’t have money for gas, let them feel the burn of being broke.
Learning from their own mistakes and successes can make for lasting and meaningful learning experiences. You can talk them through their choices, help them consider the consequences of their actions, and support them.
There are situations where safety is a concern and you will have to intervene. The brain isn’t fully developed until the mid 20’s. Many decisions still require adult input. Share your thought process with your child so they understand the levels of potential danger the situation could involve. If the answer is “no,” that’s a natural consequence of not yet being an adult who can make all of their own decisions.
5. Let Them Fail
Allow your children to fail and learn from it. Failure is part of life for everyone, and you can’t protect them from life’s hardships.
As much as we might want our children to never feel the pressure of disappointing their team, failing a test, hurting someone’s feelings, or missing a deadline, these are all realities of life. Teach your child nervous system self-regulation to help them cope when things don’t go the way they wanted.
It’s how we deal with failure that matters. It’s an ideal opportunity to develop critical thinking skills. We can support our kids when they fail, and love them enough to cheer their subsequent successes.
6. Avoid Overscheduling
Too many activities, busy days, and things to achieve can wear a kid down. It’s common these days to see Instagram feeds with kids doing every sport, getting every academic achievement, and never having a day to chill out.
Give your children some space to develop their personalities. Keep their surroundings and schedule simplified with plenty of free time for them to use their innate creativity. Filling up every minute with too many achievements and zero downtime doesn’t give your child time to process and grow.
It’s ok to slow down and be mindful of not taking on too much, and not expecting too much from your kids and yourself.
7. Change Your Expectations
If you get caught up in expecting your child to get all A’s, win every sports game, and be happy all the time, maybe that’s how you grew up. Take this opportunity to check in on your expectations, and dial it down a bit.
Let your child be who they are, let them feel their feelings, and remember that your job is to be present for their struggle, not stop the struggle. This will help your kids develop resilience.
It’s important for your child to know that you trust their ability to cope with difficulty, so let them lead the way during difficult emotions. Then, help them pick themselves up, dust off, and learn to move on.
8. Support Their Independence
It is important to grow as a parent as your child grows and encourage independence that is developmentally appropriate. Kids learn and grow, and we must stay with them on their journey.
It’s easy to get stuck thinking we can make our kids’ lives easier and happier if we do everything for them. But the goal is for them to turn into independent adults, so fostering life skills and independence when they are capable and ready is a great way to build their confidence without fear of overparenting.
Recognize that you and your child are separate people. Let them know that you are a person and not only a parent who is there to fulfill their moment-to-moment needs. In doing so, give them permission to be their own person, too.
Model to your kids how to make mistakes and learn from them, how to figure things out by trial and error, and how to be independent by being independent yourself.
I have read that overparenting is too much of a “we” mindset, and it is important for your child to have the autonomy of making their own choices, mistakes, and successes. It’s their lives to live, not yours.
Really, letting them find independence IS helping their security in themselves, this can be an extension of attachment parenting in a developmentally appropriate way. You can be there for them, but their life process is their own.
Attachment Parenting: Continued
Think of choosing not to overparent as the next chapter of attachment parenting. If you have also struggled with knowing when to let your kids go a little, you’re not alone. This is a new chapter for a lot of us!
There are many reasons people lean toward overparenting. Sometimes it’s getting stuck in the infant attachment phase, but sometimes it can be from parental anxiety, personal trauma, generational trauma, or just trying to parent better than you were parented.
Each child’s needs are different too, so no parenting is one size fits all. Personally, for me, it’s been like starting from scratch with each kid I’ve had! Give yourself grace as a parent to experience some back-and-forth trial and error until you find your stride with each child and what their needs are.
If you notice you are really struggling with overparenting or clinging to control, it’s important to assess yourself and why that is.
Having a support network in the form of a therapist, a down-to-earth friend, or a friend or family member who has grown-up children and walked through the fires of parenting themselves, can all be really helpful and healing during your parenting journey.