Do you constantly interfere during your kid's play dates? Send them upstairs to get changed because their clothes don't match? Hover over them while they're doing homework?
Put that red pen back in your purse, because micromanaging your kids is likely to do more harm than good.
Micromanaging — or over-parenting — can come in many forms. Aside from the play dates, the clothing choices, and the obsessive homework supervision, signs that parents are micromanaging their kids include getting into power struggles over friend choices, questioning other adults in their kids' lives (like teachers or coaches), and planning actions around activities that are years in the future, like what college their child will get into, says Michigan-based therapist Carrie Krawiec, LMFT.
But however it presents itself, micromanaging can give children the impression that parents don't have confidence in them, and this can lead to problems. "If they feel they can't do things in the right way, they may defer to you, which interferes with their ability to develop self-belief," Krawiec says. "Conversely, they could grow to question your intensity and not seek your feedback even when it's safe or healthy to do so. If they perceive you as being critical, they could look for encouragement in other (unhealthy) places, like delinquent peers."
Kids who are micromanaged could also grow used to an unearned level of success, which may lead to a poor work ethic, entitled behavior, or difficulty dealing with setbacks and failures.
So far, so doom and gloom. But don't beat yourself up if some of this rings a bell. "Everyone deals with things in different ways," says New-York based therapist Dana Carretta-Stein. "Parents who micromanage their kids sometimes struggle with a sense of control. Micromanaging can be a sign of anxiety in the parent — a therapist can help get to the root of what's causing the micromanaging."
Insecurity and poor boundaries are other possible reasons parents steamroll their kids. "It may also stem from parents' desire for their kids to achieve beyond what is age-appropriate," Krawiec explains. "Either way, the parent thinks more or less of their child's abilities and fills in the gaps accordingly."
Again, these are issues that can be addressed in therapy
Carretta-Stein points out that for modern parents, it can be a delicate balance between healthy involvement in your kid's life, and micromanaging. It can be especially difficult to know where the line is when it comes to the internet. We live in a digital age, after all, and it's important for parents to be aware of their child's activity online in order to help keep them safe, but when does this veer into over-parenting behavior — or worse, an invasion of privacy?
To help you walk that fine line, Carretta-Stein recommends being upfront about it, rather than snooping. "It's okay to ask your kids what they're doing online," she says. "I'm a huge believer and advocate of parent-child communication, which improves intimacy and strengthens the parent-child bond. Your child will also feel more respected that you asked first, rather than looking without their permission."
As always, keep your eyes open for changes in your child's behavior. If they're hiding their phone or acting secretive, a slightly different conversation about the health of their online activity might be needed. But before you start that conversation, be prepared to articulate your specific concerns. "'Because I said so' is not a parenting technique that helps children and adolescents feel validated and respected," Carretta-Stein says. "Giving an explanation of 'why' can alleviate anxiety and frustration for your child and also help them to understand you a little better."
Breaking a micromanaging habit isn't easy. But like any bad habit, start small. You could relax your grip in fairly inconsequential areas, like letting your child decide what clothes to wear, or letting them leave their veggies on their plate once in a while. The plus side is that if you back off about little things, your words might carry more weight when it comes to the big things.
It might also help to look at the motivation behind your micromanagement. Do you want to control your kid, or help them become more independent? You can't tick both of these boxes at the same time. But you can take steps (little ones, then bigger ones) to form a healthier relationship with yourself and with your child, so that you can let your kid succeed, fail, and figure out life on their own — at least some of the time.
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