Helicopter parenting. Micromanaging. Overparenting.
Call it what you want it, this parental behavior looks strikingly similar across millions of households:
- Keeping track of their homework
- Making sure they’ve studied for tests
- Rescuing them from failure
- Talking to their teachers for them
- Checking their online grades too frequently
- Sorting out the papers in their binder
- Constant nagging
It’s not fun for you. Your child probably hates it. And, despite your best intentions, it’s not having the effect you thought it would.
In fact, things appear to be getting worse. Your kid is getting older, so they should be growing more responsible, but they seem to need more micromanaging than they did before!
What on Earth is going on?!
Let’s unravel this mystery in order to see why you should stop micromanaging your kids and what you can do instead.
Why Do Parents Micromanage Their Kids?
Parents micromanage their kids because they feel like they have to. Here’s what your thought process (either conscious or unconscious) probably looks like:
My child is struggling. Therefore, I need to intervene. They don’t know how to manage their time, track their workload, or organize their things. I know how because I’m an adult, so I’ll take charge. My child will then see the value of time management and organization, and they’ll start doing it on their own. In the meantime, I will have saved them from failing by making sure they pass their classes.
This is totally understandable. When you see your kid struggling, you feel anxious, and a natural response is to step in and take control of the situation.1
Unfortunately, micromanaging never works out the way parents imagine it will.
How Do Kids Respond to Micromanagement from Parents?
Here’s your child’s thought process (either conscious or unconscious) that occurs in response to your micromanaging (three options):
Option 1: Mom (or Dad) is micromanaging my schoolwork, so I don’t have to. They’re keeping track of all my stuff, so why should I bother keeping track on my own? They seem to care a great deal about my schoolwork, so I don’t need to care.
Option 2: Mom (or Dad) is micromanaging my schoolwork because they don’t think I’m capable of managing it on my own. But I can do it on my own. I don’t need their help. Therefore, I should assert my independence by resisting their help and rejecting all of their advice.
Option 3: Mom (or Dad) is micromanaging my schoolwork because they don’t think I’m capable of managing it on my own. They’re right; I don’t know how to get things done, and I’m not smart enough to do well in school. Therefore, school isn’t for me, so I should stop caring about school. What’s the point of working hard at something if you’re just going to fail anyway?
Do any of these sound familiar?
And, more importantly, are any of these responses what you were hoping for?
What Should You Do Instead?
Just as you have to use your muscles in order to grow them, kids have to use executive function in order to develop it. So don’t be their executive function; force them to use their own budding EF skills.
This doesn’t mean you just step back and do nothing. The middle ground is called “scaffolding.” You can scaffold their executive function by:
- Maintaining a functional home study space.
- Providing the tools of executive function (paper, pens, pencils, notebooks, notepads, calendars, planners, sticky notes, binders, folders, etc.) so they can choose to use those tools when they’re ready.
- Talking with your kids about school, rather than talking at them.
- Trying to get them to talk through their plans with you. Don’t judge or criticize their plans, and don’t butt in with your own ideas.
In addition, you can lead by example by actively modeling executive function skills at home. Let them see you using EF tools. Let them hear your own EF thought processes as you make plans and work through challenges.
Don’t expect them to start following your example immediately. They won’t. But eventually, when they’re ready, they’ll have a model to guide them.
How to Transition From Micromanaging to Scaffolding and Modeling
If you’ve been micromanaging, don’t just abruptly stop without explanation. Sit down and talk with your kid about it. Apologize. Explain why you think it’s not working and what you plan to do differently.
And don’t expect them to trust your new approach right away. Stick with it. Trust takes time.
Let them know the things you’re now willing to do and not willing to do in order to support them. Put them back in the driver’s seat, but let them know that support is available if they want it. Tell them that you’re no longer going to force-feed them unwanted advice. Instead, you’ll only chime in if they ask for your ideas.
Ask them what type of support they’d like from you.
Be prepared for them to ask for too much – to request that you continue doing everything for them. If this happens, it’s because they feel incapable of doing it on their own. Stand firm, and make them take charge of their own schoolwork, but let them know you’re still around to help.
Also be prepared for the answer to be “nothing.” If they’ve been feeling suffocated by your overparenting, they’ll need to assert their independence.
Lastly, let them fail. (They’ll probably fail.) It will be okay. Actually, it will be good.
If your kid isn’t motivated to use executive function strategies and effective study techniques, they probably think they don’t need to. Failing a test or a class can be exactly the kind of painful reality check they need to become willing to try a new approach.
P.S. Want more counterintuitive ideas about how to be a more effective parent? Sign up for this summer’s session of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity)!
1 Gillespie, Claire. “No really, stop micromanaging your kids: Why over-parenting is bad, and how to stop yourself from doing it.” The Week. January 28, 2020.
Chris Loper has been working as a tutor and academic coach since 2014, racking up over 10,000 hours of experience supporting students.
Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
Chris’s most recent endeavor combines his academic and habit-formation expertise to help students thrive in college. Visit SmartCollegeHabits.com to learn more.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.