One of many privileges of being a teacher is encountering many different parenting styles. As a parent myself, it helps me pick up ideas, hone them and practice them on my three!
But one style I try to avoid is the 'over-involved' parent. It's wonderful to have parents who are engaged in their children's education, want to know what's happening, how they can contribute both to the school broadly as well as to their child - but beware the over-involved parent also.
Over-involved parents tend to micro-manage everything in their child’s world. They’re the parents who think it’s better to fix something, rather than allow their child to learn from an experience that doesn't go his or her way.
You may have seen them yourself. An over-involved parent tends to do everything for their child. They hang up their child’s coat, take her by the hand to her desk and sit beside her, correcting her, as she begins the first assignment of the day. In a way, this type of parent is an even more intense version of a 'helicopter' parent who you've probably read about or encountered.
An over-involved parent isn’t looking at what their child needs, but rather what they want for their child.
We have a few parents like this in our school. As a teaching group we have worked out strategies of not only dealing with the parents, but also to try to show them a different style.
What does a child need?
A child needs parents who understand that what’s said and done today affects how your child thinks about things tomorrow; parents who understand there’s a huge gap between how a fully-grown adult brain interprets things and how an immature child’s brain sees things.
The over-involved parent wants to control every interaction their child has with other kids. They steer the kids in the direction they think they should go. Rather than wait for something to happen, and see how the child learns, the parent tends to prevent something from happening in the first place. The parents are loving and only want what is best for their child and will do what they must to ensure that happens.
But what impact does this have on children?
One child’s immature thinking may cause him to think he’s special. If mum is forever 'fixing' situations for the child, he may grow up thinking others should always give him his way. As a tween and teen he may surround himself with kids who bow to his every whim. He may even grow into an adult who has an air of entitlement about him that few will enjoy.
Another child - one with a different temperament - may begin shying away from playing with others, or stop risking new experiences so mum doesn’t step in and embarrass him. As a grown-up he may find he’s uncomfortable taking risks of any kind.
Both types of children will have missed out on learning how to handle life’s disappointments and setbacks.
It is difficult as a teacher to pull a parent aside - who is motivated by all the right hopes and aspirations for their child - and talk about this, but we try to do so through educating parents on how to be a parent who helps teach children.
Here is one real-life example of an over-involved parent that we use from a 5-year-old's birthday party. To help the parents, we have constructed a contrasting response to the same situation in the style of an 'educating' parent.
The over-involved parent
Mum: “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you get a pink cupcake even if there isn’t enough for everyone.”
The educating parent
Mum: “It looks like there aren’t enough pink cupcakes for everyone. What would you like?”
Child: (beginning to cry) “I want pink.”
Mum: “I know. But sometimes you have to change what you want. Isn't it wonderful to have another choice?”
Child: “Okay, I'll have the green one.”
It's important that your child knows you're always there for them, and that you love them. But also let them deal with setbacks, make mistakes, take responsiblity for their actions and for situations and accept consequences.