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Is it possible to parent too much? Is there such a thing as “overparenting”? Is overparenting healthy?

Yes, overparenting does exist and no, it is not healthy.

I see three kinds of overparenting. Parents of new babies sometimes OVERCOMFORT. The first peep on the baby monitor, long before the baby starts to cry, sends the parents rushing to the crib.

Overcomforting takes different forms. Some parents overfeed because they think every time a baby cries it’s hungry. Some parents set the stage for sleep problems because they always rock the baby to sleep never giving the baby a chance to fall asleep on its own. Some parents open their arms and their bed to a toddler who wakes in the middle of the night interfering with the child’s ability to conquer its own fears.

Some parents OVERPROTECT. There are two peaks of overprotection: when the children are toddlers and again when they are teenagers. Toddlers NEED to climb and engage in rough-and-tumble play. The parents’ job is to insure safety. They should not interfere with this important developmental stage by forbidding these activities.

Teens NEED to make their own decisions and make their own friends. They even need to do a certain amount of risk-taking. The parents’ job is to facilitate these developmental stages, not try to delay or prevent them. I have observed that when parents are overprotective, teens are over-rebellious.

Some parents are OVERINVOLVED with their children. The parents fail to learn the fine art of backing off and letting the child assume responsibility for consequences. Such parents constantly remind their children to do their homework or continuously ask, “Is your homework done?” or hover over the child to make sure the task is done right.

Some parents get overinvolved in their children’s feelings. They can’t stand the thought of any unhappiness in their child’s life. If the child didn’t get the lead in the school play or didn’t get on the team these parents want to fix it for the child or try to make it up to the child in some way.

We all know parents who OVERINDULGE. Most of us do a little bit of this, especially at birthdays and holidays. But the habitually overindulgent parent seems to think that things equal love or tries to substitute things for time. These equations simply don’t work. Things don’t make children happy, time with their parents does.

I have come to the conclusion that just about all overparenting starts out as GOOD PARENTING. These parents really want to meet their child’s needs. All overparenting has two components. First of all, the parents seem unaware of the child’s unique personality and developmental needs. Second, the parents seem to be thinking short term instead of long term.

What’s so bad about overparenting? The hovering, overprotective parent gives two messages that can be harmful to children. The first negative message is that the world is a scary place. The second, more destructive, message is that the parents don’t trust their children to do what they are supposed to do whether it be learning to fall asleep on their own, figuring out how to safely climb a tree, or remembering to do the homework assignment. This message is especially harmful. Children cannot believe in themselves if the most important people in their lives don’t believe in them.

Why would a parent overparent? Some are afraid they won’t be a good enough parent so they overdo it or try too hard. Some are meeting their own needs to be a perfect parent. Some are trying to make up for their own deprived childhood. One couple I know had perfectly horrible childhoods and were determined from the time they married to be the best parents in the world. They are always there for their children and have no life apart from the children. The youngest, age 10, still sleeps in the parent’s bedroom.

A real downside to overparenting: Children can grow up to be scared adults who have never learned to master fears or uncommitted adults who have never learned how to make a decision.