It’s easy to fall into the trap of “overparenting” with a greater emphasis than ever on the importance of childhood experiences.
But, one expert explains why this should be avoided and how you can spot the tell-tale signs that you’re doing it.
Overparenting can be defined in two ways, according to clinical psychologist Judith Locke.
The first being where parents can, with good intentions, end up over-assisting their child with tasks, such as homework. However, this can result in the child struggling to develop essential skills, Locke explained to CNBC on a video call.
The second interpretation of this, are those parents who are “extremely responsive,” said Locke. Responsiveness refers to the level of love, care, affection and praise a parent gives to a child.
Locke explained that “extreme responsiveness is not just having a good relationship with the child through special quality time and things like that, but actually describing a child as your best friend, praising them so much that they don’t get used to any constructive criticism, or they are needing that regular reassurance of praise.”
Locke is the author of “The Bonsai Child,” which uses the analogy of this type of tree to describe how raising a child in an overly protected environment results in them being unable to cope as well in the real world.
“Overparenting looks like the most loving, caring parenting ever,” Locke said, arguing that in reality it’s actually quite “performative.”
So, how do you know when you’re going too far as a parent to try to curate the perfect upbringing for your child?
In addition to giving too much praise, Locke said there were other signs showing that a parent was being over-responsive to a child’s every need, in an effort to “make them happy all the time.”
One example was not giving them the space to be bored over the school holidays, by trying to fill all their free time with activities.
Locke said that another example of “extreme responsiveness” was believing everything a child says. But she also urged parents not to get too hung up on every time they do lie.
“To a certain degree, lying in kids is actually the development of a skill of resourcefulness, to kind of change the truth, to make it suit you,” she explained.
And believing everything a child said could also become a problem at school, Locke pointed out: “So when children are coming home and saying, ‘I got a detention that I didn’t deserve’ … parents are believing the child over the teacher.”
Locke suggested that too much emphasis on ensuring a child develops a high level of self-esteem was also an aspect of overparenting.
This could be seen in the expectations for children to be popular, she said, adding that “kids don’t have a lot of permission to be shy anymore,” with parents catastrophizing this trait.
Locke referred to American psychologist Martin Seligman’s book “The Optimistic Child.” In this book, she said that while Seligman acknowledges there is a link between feeling good and doing well, it is also argued that “you can’t make a child feel good to do well.”
Interventions by parents to try to rid a child of shyness with the expectation that they will turn out confident demonstrated both extreme responsiveness and demandingness, Locke suggested.
Examples of these interventions would include calling another parent if their child isn’t invited to a party, or getting involved when a child doesn’t make a sports team.
One way to test if you are doing too much for your child as a parent was to consider if they could match the skills of other children of the same age.
“If all the other kids can go on school camp and your child can’t, that’s a red flag for you to go ‘Am I doing too much for them?’,” said Locke.
There were five essential skills that Locke said children should be developing: resilience, self-regulation, resourcefulness, respect and responsibility.
And a 2012 study, co-authored by Locke, surveyed 128 parenting professionals about overparenting. A lack of resilience, sense of entitlement, inadequate development of life skills and transference of high parental anxiety, were among the effects of overparenting observed in children by respondents to the survey.
Referring back to the bonsai analogy in her book, Locke said that in the same way exposure to the elements can make a tree stronger, it helps children to face challenges that are age appropriate.
She said that parents should be thinking about how they can help their child to help themselves.
Locke added that “your role as a parent needs to get less and less as your child steps up.”