Can You Be Too Involved With Your Child?

Today I'm happy to feature a wonderful guest blogger, Kathy Seal. She's the coauthor of Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids:
Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child
. Thanks, Kathy!

Thirty years of research has found that the more parents are involved with their children — whether toddlers or teens — the better it is for their kids. Dozens of studies have found that the more support we give our children, the happier they are and the more they achieve. High parental involvement gives kids high self-esteem and helps them feel secure and solidly connected to us.

When Clark U. psychologist Wendy Grolnick studied parents of elementary school children, for example, she found that the more involved mothers were with their children — that is, the more time they spent with their kids and the more they knew about what their children did, as well as their likes and dislikes — the better their children did on report cards and standardized achievement tests, and the fewer learning and behavior problems they had in school.

The highly involved parents weren't necessarily at home more than other parents, but when they were, they made sure to spend time with their children. They asked about their children's school day, knew which subjects they enjoyed or didn't and who their friends were.

There's only one caveat to involvement: It's wise to make sure you're respecting your child's autonomy at the same time.

But just how do you do that? There are three ways:

Take your child's point of view and acknowledge her feelings.

Say your 10-year-old isn't doing his homework. You are thinking that studying will help him get a good job, but he's reasoning, "It's going to get dark soon. I want to have some fun now. I can do my homework later."

You could take his point of view by trying to imagine, "If I were his age, what might I prefer doing right now, riding my bike outside or reading a chapter on coal production?" Then you can say, "I understand that you’re having fun. But tonight we're going to Aunt Karen's for dinner, so unfortunately, this is the only time to do your science homework." What counts is acknowledging your child's feelings. You want to convey "I'm with you."

Support your child's independent problem solving.

One of the best ways to support your child's independent problem solving is to ask questions, as I did when my son, Zach, was making a pinhole camera for the school science fair. Instead of taking him to a store to get the cardboard box he needed, I asked him, "Where could we find a big box?"

After a minute he said, "I know — behind the store where they sell refrigerators!"

"How could we make the pinhole?" I asked next. And so on.

Give your child choices.

Even a tiny degree of choice boosts a child's feelings of autonomy. Sometimes it's simply a question of your language. Studies have shown that words and phrases like have to, must, don't and I want you chill kids' feelings of autonomy. Instead, try giving limits as information, including the reasoning behind the rule. So if your child is painting, you might say, "The materials need to be kept clean so you can keep using them for a long time." (I know this wording sounds awkward. But it avoids phrases like, "I want you to" or "you must," which can lead to a power struggle.)

As my own children have gotten older, I've found that phrases like "have you considered….?" or "do you think you might want to … ?" also do the trick.

Encouraging your child's feelings of autonomy will help you stay involved without controlling him. That way you can stay close to your child without becoming one of those dreaded helicopter parents.

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