Overprotective to Productive Parenting

Tuesday, 25 Oct 2022

Much has been written about parenting styles when it comes to nurturing healthy, independent and resilient children. Terms such as helicopter parent or tiger mums have developed over recent years but one that I am concerned about is the “best friend parent” and while these terms are stereotypically amusing they are of course an oversimplification. The following article is a series of thought bubbles built from 30 years of experience teaching and 24 years as a parent.

Academic Success 

No one wants their child to fail. We all want our children to be happy, engaged and successful but sometimes a child will struggle with their schooling. This creates a feeling in the parent that originates from two sources. The first is ego related. We question our parenting ability. For example, if you were good at maths at school and your child struggles with algebra this reflects your failure to support them or advocate for them. The second is more altruistic. We simply would like to see our child have an easier run at life. This comes from a place of love. Deep down we also recognise that life is difficult and at some point, their child is going to fail at something and we want to see them experience disappointment and then watch them bounce back. The soft skill of building grit and resilience needs to be stressed and developed at a young age. Children will surprise you. They need opportunities to test themselves. Don’t get me wrong. Children benefit greatly from parental input into their child’s education. Parents are greatly appreciated as partners in their child’s education by teachers. However, I would suggest that success be measured by their growth rate. Schools often have a narrow definition of success and high performance needs to be celebrated but don't buy into this as the sole definition of success. Congratulate them on their awesome efforts in the areas where they worked really hard. Help them plan for achievable improvement in the areas where they struggle or haven’t really applied themselves. The fear of failure is only generated when failure is not seen as an opportunity to grow.  

Trouble at School 

At some point, your child will get into trouble at school. I would be surprised if they make it through adolescence and this doesn’t happen as they push boundaries. That’s okay, but they need to learn that their choices have consequences. Please support teachers or the school administration, or at least, please don’t undermine teachers when this happens. They actually do have your child’s best interests at heart. 

Conflict Resolution

It is awful when your child is having friendship problems. Every child goes through this and every parent wishes they could take the pain away. However, picking up the phone to call the other child’s parent, or marching down to school is not the answer. Step back. Remember, if you vanquish all the dragons, you also vanquish the dragon slayer. Acknowledge that conflict and rejection feel terrible. Validate your child’s feelings and ask, “What’s your plan?” If they haven’t got one, “That’s okay, we’ll figure it out together.” Work with the school to face the challenge together. Most schools have staff that are trained in conflict resolution or have counsellors who can help with building friendship skills. 

Learning Autonomy

It is a source of comfort for some parents that their grown children still come home to get their washing done or paperwork filled. It’s nice to be needed; however, when you continually do tasks for your child instead of requiring them to look after themselves, you do them no favours. Step back. Age-appropriate responsibility needs to be given to children. By high school, they should really be organising their own school bag and making sure they have homework, lunch and sports kit or musical instruments. A bug-bear of mine is watching parents carry the school bag for their primary school child into and out of the school. It is their bag that they need to pack, they need to carry it and take responsibility for it. If they forget their sports bag or hat. They can’t do sport, or they have to sit in the shade at lunchtime and there is a consequence. Children’s learning is built upon trial and error and cause and effect don’t rob them of these learning opportunities. 

Finally, I will finish this article with two quotes that you can discuss as a family.

“There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.” - Kurt Hahn

“There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So just be a real one.” –Sue Atkins

Nick Johnstone