How to be a decent parent without over parenting

We all want to be decent parents, but what happens if we over parent, becoming snowploughs for our children, asks Arlene Harris

How to be a decent parent without over parenting

We’ve all heard about helicopter parents (and no doubt been guilty of it from time-to-time) but the latest description for modern parenting is ‘snow plough’. This is where all obstacles are removed from a child’s path to ensure a smooth transition through life and the best chance of achieving their wildest dreams.

But while we all want the best for our children, teacher and author David McCullough doesn’t believe that going out of our way to facilitate their every move is beneficial to their development. In his book You Are Not Special: And Other Encouragements he says the modern ‘cult of exceptionalism’ has made children afraid to be average.

But child psychologist, Peadar Maxwell says the snowplough tag carries a very negative label when most parents are simply trying to do the best for their children.

“We can’t wrap our children up in cotton wool, but we are their advocates,” he says. “In his book, David McCullough decries the extremes some parents go to facilitate their children’s success to protect their families’ privilege, or to make the parent feel better. And there are extreme cases which would make most of us cringe and fear for the young people who may never learn how to be second in a competition or cannot accept a C grade never mind a fail.

“But most parents are just trying to help their children to do well and children need guidance and encouragement to try new things and do their best.”

However, the Wexford-based expert says if a parent was overly-helping their child to succeed, it is possible they would become a helpless young adult, unable to form relationships

“With too much intervention, children may not be able to relate to others as their equal or may see no value in work for its own sake, but only in being the best,” he says.

“The lack of those positive attributes could lead to individuals struggling to find meaningful relationships with people they consider not good enough to be their friends, completely giving up or even cheating once they realise that they cannot be Number 1 in all aspects of life.

“Perfectionism is a heavy burden for any person to carry and it can lead to frustration, loneliness and depression. We rely on feedback from others and our environment to know who we are and what our strengths and weaknesses are. This can be a bad thing if the feedback is overly negative, but mostly it is either positive or at least realistic.

“Feedback from mistakes and failures or just not getting what you want helps us to get a grip on reality and to make appropriate changes to how we are with others or our approach to study, work or our interests.”

Laura Haugh of online parenting community also says while parents undoubtedly have their children’s best interests at heart, those who are ‘snowploughing’ are preventing their youngsters from learning valuable life lessons.

“Children must find their own passions and learn to push themselves to succeed, experience failure in the safety of their parent’s supportive arms, and realise that being happy and average is OK,” she says.

“Parents who pressurise their children to achieve, academically or in a sporting field, can ultimately damage them psychologically as well as hampering their natural development.

“Certainly they can foster their child’s talents and encourage them to pursue their interests and dreams, but a child who shows an interest in singing should not be groomed for stardom.

“Of course, every parent wants their child to reach their maximum potential, however there is a balance between providing extra tutoring for a child falling behind in maths, and adding a summer schedule of extra tuition in a bid to get the highest possible grades. My advice is to encourage and enable rather than push and pressurise your children.”

Cliona O’Connor from Douglas is a medical sales rep with three children — Caoilinn, (5), Fiadh (3) and Ollie (9 months). She is currently on maternity leave and writes a blog about her experiences as a mother.

She believes pressure on children to excel is one reason why parents do so much to facilitate their success.

“There is a lot more pressure on parents to provide extra-curricular activities than there was when we were children,” she says. “This is not to do with ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ or cultivating Olympic champions, but simply to ensure your children don’t miss out on the social aspects of sport and develop interaction skills so when the dreaded teenage years roll around they will hopefully have something other than study or hanging around town.”

Cliona has only recently entered the world of school and extra-curricular activities but her daughter has already been signed up to a number of classes — and the little girl is keen to get more skills under her belt.

“Caoilinn is only 5-years-old and has only been at school for six weeks and while she does gymnastics and swimming, she has already requested various other activities including piano lessons, horse riding and drama,” says the 37-year-old. “I have told her she can’t do everything, but I can see that there will be a lot more demands placed on us as the children get older.

“They will probably take their extra-curricular activities for granted but because their friends do the same, they assume this is the norm. But hopefully one day they will realise how lucky they are.”

Cliona says while it is important for modern children to have the chance to partake in various activities, parents should not force their likes or ambitions on them.

“If a child is desperately unhappy doing activities (regardless of ability or potential) then parents have to let them walk away from it,” she says. “Of course we will worry that they may blame us years later for not pushing them to continue, but making life decisions and dealing with regret or success, is all part of growing up.

“However, my children are so young that we do not have much experience of this yet so it’s easy to procrastinate with my rose tinted glasses on.”

Tips on balanced parenting

- Encourage your child and expose them to as many activities and positive experiences as is reasonable.

- Firmly but respectfully, encourage the child who doesn’t want to try anything to do something where he can develop skills, make friends, etc.

- As your child grows allow him to select activities he actually enjoys and wants to continue with.

- Don’t dwell on the disappointment you may feel if your child does not choose your sport or interest.

- Value the importance of education without giving the impression that only A’s and B’s are acceptable.

- Acknowledge when a subject is difficult and encourage revision without the goal being 100%.

- Allow your child to try to fix problems by helping him to come up with his own solutions.

- Try not to be defensive when dealing with teachers and trainers – they are trying to do their best too.

- Above all remember that you can’t and won’t always be there for your child, he or she will need to be able to independent and to accept what life offers up and to get on with it again after each setback.

- By not allowing your child to make mistakes, to accept being average at something and to solve their own problems you may be denying them vital life lessons that will help them overcome future adversity.

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