The Dangers of Over Parenting

by Carl Pickhardt

It's a risk parents run particularly with a first child, an only child, a last child at home, a child in crisis, or a child with special needs: becoming so absorbed in, preoccupied by, and invested in that single child that they over parent to formative effect.

What is Over-Parenting?

Over parenting occurs when parents carry some concern or care-taking behavior to such an extreme degree that the child reacts with an extremely troublesome response. For example: parents who treat their child as especially fragile may raise a child who is unduly risk-averse. What's called for in this case, of course, is for parents to moderate their absorption and preoccupation so that the child learns to remain responsibly aware of her condition, but not so frightened by it that fear prevents safe and normal growth.

Common Examples of Over Parenting

In response to over solicitous parents, a child can become extremely sensitive and easily upset. "I get treated so carefully by my parents that I get easily hurt when not treated with that degree of consideration by other people."

In response to over critical parents, a child can become extremely judgmental and self-critical. "I can never do well enough to satisfy my parents, am really hard on myself and other people say that I am too hard on them."

In response to over giving parents who keep setting their own self-interest aside for their son's or daughter's sake, a child can become extremely exploitive: "I expect other people to do more for me than I should do for them."

In response to over ambitious parents who treat their child's achievements as their own, a child can become extremely driven. "My parents always want 'the best for me' which really means 'the best from me,' so I work very hard not to disappoint their expectations, putting myself under a lot of stress."

In response to over protective parents who continually restrict their son's or daughter's freedom out of worry of worldly harm, a child can become extremely anxious and cautious. "I don't feel safe going on adventures like my friends because all I can think about is how I might get hurt."

In response to over controlling parents who want involvement in all the child's choices to ensure good decisions are made, the child can become extremely dependent and passively resistant. "I've learned to let my parents take responsibility for me, and when I don't like their choices I agree with what they say, but take forever to do what they want."

In response to insecure parents who can't stand displeasing the boy or girl by saying "no," a child can become extremely wed to immediate gratification, acting very willful to that end. "Because I'm used to getting my way with my parents, I don't let them refuse what I want."

In response to over praising parents who can’t say enough good to their child about that boy's or girl's smallest accomplishment, the child can come to believe these rave reviews from parents and develop a degree of grandiosity. "I know I can do great things because my parents always tell me so, and when I don't I really feel let down."

In response to over permissive parents who want their child to have maximum freedom of self-determination to grow, a child can become intolerant of outside authority and the demands and restraints that are in force outside of the home. "I was allowed to live by own rules and can't stand being told what I must and cannot do."

In response to overbearing parents who enforce absolute compliance to their strict beliefs, a child can become rigidly conservative and demanding of others. "I always act 'right' according to the rules I've been taught to follow, and I expect others to do like me."

In response to over enabling parents who continually keep the child from confronting consequences of unwise or wrongful choices, a child can act with irresponsible abandon and impunity, confident of parental rescue should bad outcomes occur. "If I get into trouble I know my parents will get me out."

There is also an implication for discipline here. A lot of times, the more extreme a child's behavior, the more extreme measures parents take in response, the more extreme the child feels justified in acting, as a bad situation becomes worse.

Thus the more obstinate the child acts, the more punitively the parents react, the more stubbornly resolved the child becomes to remain resistant, the more punitive the parents become, and so on.  In this case, parents would probably have been better served by at least allowing some communication about the differences at issue so other options for resolving the opposition might be explored.

So what's the point of the above examples? Simply this: there's a cautionary lesson that over parenting has to teach. If you find your child to be extremely characterized by a trait that has more harmful influence than good, check out your parenting. You may be over parenting in some complicit way to your child's cost. Moderate your own behavior and you may be able to help your child moderate his or her own.

Carl Pickhardt Ph.D. is the author of 12 parenting books and is a psychologist in private counseling and lecturing practice in Austin, Texas. His most recent three books are: The Connected Father (about parenting adolescents), The Future of Your Only Child (about growing up 'only'), and Stop the Screaming (about family conflict.) His earlier book, Keys to Successful Stepfathering continues to be the definitive book on the subject. Carl writes a Blog for PsychologyToday.com.

Copyright © Carl Pickhardt. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.