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  • Writer's pictureDr Sarah Bishop

The Pitfalls of #Over-Parenting: Nurturing Independence for a Successful Launch into Adulthood #psychology

Updated: Jan 20


In the parenting role, the infant and early childhood years require a hands-on approach, where meeting a child's every need is not only essential but serves as the very cornerstone of healthy development.


However, as the child grows and develops throughout childhood and adolescence, the trajectory towards independence beckons. The role of the parent must therefore adapt in order to nurture the child’s developing capacities.


While the instinct to safeguard and provide remains, the evolving needs of the developing child require a balance of support and opportunities for self-sufficiency.


Sometimes however through what has come to be known as “overparenting”, the best of intentions, can end up hindering a child's ability to navigate life independently.


This approach, often seen as "preparing the road for the child, and not the child for the road," can inadvertently impede a young adult's journey towards self-discovery and hinder their capacity to take responsibility for their own lives.




Understanding Over-Parenting:


Over-parenting, at its core, is characterised by excessive involvement in a child's life, aiming to shield them from challenges and hardships.


This style of parenting often involves overinvolvement in various aspect of a child's life, from academics to extracurricular activities and social interactions.


Overindulgence which has become commonplace in modern society with an excess of treats, toys, and holidays can also be form of overparenting. While it may seem like an expression of love, this approach can have unintended consequences *if* not balanced appropriately with other aspects of life. It can for example can hinder the development of important life skills such as delayed gratification, appreciation for hard work, and understanding the value of resources whilst also creating unrealistic expectations.



psychology children spoiling
Overindulgence can have unintended consequencies

Why is overparenting so common, especially these days?


Swiftly coming to a child's aid, providing them with excesses and resolving challenges for them can be related to cultural shifts around “achievement” and high expectations as the world has rapidly changed in the last few decades, but it can also reveal deeper psychological intricacies within a parent.


The "rescue" behaviour seen in overparenting may indicate unresolved needs or emotional gaps within the parent, stemming from childhood experiences or unaddressed psychological needs. Constant intervention may be a way for parents to seek validation, identity, control or fulfil their own emotional voids through their child rather than focusing on the child as a unique and separate individual with a need to develop independently from the parent.


The constant rescuing not only shields the child from valuable life lessons but also communicates an unconscious message: "You must need me and are incapable of handling this on your own." This unintentional disempowerment can potentially impede the child's emotional growth, resilience, and self-efficacy, hindering their ability to navigate life's challenges independently when the time to do so comes.


That is not to say that all children will respond this way to being overparented, some will eventually reject the over-control of the parents, but even these individuals who do go on to strive independently, often struggle to shake an underlying feeling of not being "enough" - as, without someone else governing what this should look like, it can be hard to know independently.


To avoid setting their child up for these struggles, parents will need to engage in deep and honest self-reflection to break free from this cycle and foster a more conscious and emotionally attuned approach, promoting the child's autonomy and resilience for a empowered future.


The Road to Nowhere: A delayed transition to independence


A crucial aspect of over-parenting is children being unprepared for the inevitable challenges of adulthood. Of course there are occasions where children need advocating for, especially young children who have not yet developed coping skills. However, by too readily facing the developing child’s battles on their behalf, parents may inadvertently obstruct the development of crucial life skills, such as problem-solving, decision-making, and coping with set-backs.


As children raised under over-parenting enter young adulthood, they may find themselves ill-equipped to handle the complexities of life. The avoidance of responsibility becomes a pervasive issue, as these individuals may struggle. Rather than embracing challenges as opportunities for growth, they may become avoidant of them, perpetuating a cycle of dependency.


The long-term consequences of over-parenting extend far beyond the immediate challenges of young adulthood. The pursuit of fulfilment in work and relationships often requires problem solving, risk taking, adaptability, and a strong sense of self, qualities that are compromised when parents overly insulate their children from life's inevitable difficulties.



avoidance coping skills psychology
Avoiding problems is not "laziness", it's often a response to feeling overwhelmed and a lack of skills to manage this


Here are some examples of overparenting in action:


Academic Overinvolvement:

Scenario: A child leaves their homework at home.


Over-Parenting Response: The parent rushes to school to deliver the forgotten homework, preventing the child from experiencing the natural consequence of their forgetfulness and taking away the need for them to develop a better strategy for remembering.


Conflict Resolution:

Scenario: Two children have a disagreement at a class party.


Over-Parenting Response: The parent intervenes immediately, attempting to resolve the conflict without giving the child an opportunity to respond themselves and work through it on their own.


Academic underachievement:

Scenario: A teenager consistently fails to complete assignments or attend classes.


Over-Parenting Response: The parent constantly makes excuses for the academic performance, blaming teachers, friends or external circumstances. Underlying personal issues and difficulties related to the child’s own thoughts, feelings and behaviours are not helpfully addressed. The child is therefore unable to take responsibility for their own actions in the scenario. This can lead to a lack of self-esteem and dependence on “excuses” in order to avoid challenges.


Personal responsibility

Scenario: A teenager consistently forgets to do their chores.


Over-Parenting Response: The parent consistently completes the teenager's chores for them or hires a cleaner, preventing them from learning the importance of personal responsibility and contributing to the household. Setting the expectation that things will be done for them.

 

Financial Dependency:

Scenario: A young adult faces financial challenges.


Over-Parenting Response: Instead of guiding the young adult in budgeting or finding solutions, the parent continuously provides financial support meaning they do not have to take responsibility for their own financial well-being.

 

Job search and career decisions:

Scenario: A young adult is searching for their first job.


Over-Parenting Response: The parent takes charge of the entire job search process, from crafting the CV to scheduling interviews, diminishing the young adult's opportunity to develop crucial job-seeking skills and independence.

 

Cultivating Independence:

So how do we create a more balanced and nurturing approach? Fostering independence doesn't mean abandoning children; rather, it involves gradually relinquishing control and allowing them to experience both triumphs and failures in order to prepare them for the road ahead. Encouraging and supporting autonomy, decision-making, and resilience sets the stage for a successful launch into adulthood.


"Tell them this!",

"I'll tell them that!"

"You shouldn't let them speak to you like that!"


These are common example of a parent taking too much control and responsibility in a situation where a child's development might instead be better nurtured by support to:


Express and regulate their emotions:


"Tell me more about how you're feeling, wow, that sounds tough. I'm glad you told me."


Connection, empathy and validation can be soothing and help the processing of the situation - when we demonstrate these emotionally intelligent skills for our children they are more likely to learn how to do if for themselves later on.


The parent modelling mature and regulated emotions:


"I'd be upset by that too, and it sounds like a really tricky situation. Maybe we should get outside for a bit then think about what to do?"


Being upset about something that is upsetting is an appropriate response. Try not to tell the child not to feel the feeling as this will only hinder their processing. Instead name the feeling and offer a skill to make it feel more manageable without the aim of getting rid of the feeling.


Once the emotions are less intense then a dialogue with guidance that helps the child to think for themselves about a response is more possible:


"What are the options?"

"What's helped in the past?

"What's made it worse?"

"How might someone else see it?"


This way the child can think for themself about what to do, take some responsibility in the situation and learn valuable lessons from it.


Tips for Parents:


Most importantly: SPEND QUALITY TIME WITH YOUR CHILD AND GIVE THEM YOUR FOCUSED ATTENTION, WHILST YOU:

 

1. Encourage Decision-Making: Allow your child to make age-appropriate decisions from an early age. This fosters a sense of autonomy and responsibility.

 

2. Teach Problem-Solving Skills: Instead of solving every problem for your child, guide them through the process of identifying and addressing challenges on their own.

 

3. Promote Resilience: Help your child understand that setbacks and failures are a natural part of life. Encourage them to learn from these experiences. If you want to be a master of something you have to be willing to look like a fool at the start.

 

4. Balanced Support: Offer unconditional love at all times and support and guidance when needed, but avoid excessive intervention. Let your child navigate certain challenges independently.

 

Conclusion:

 

In the quest to be the best parents we can be, it's crucial to reflect on our parenting styles and ensure we're not inadvertently hindering our children's journey towards independence. By preparing our children for the road rather than the road for them, we empower them to embrace challenges, take responsibility for their lives, and ultimately reach their full potential. It's a compassionate approach that lays the foundation for a fulfilling and successful adulthood.

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