I just want them to be happy. It’s the classic maxim of the modern parent. But when does “guidance” go too far and into “snowplough parenting” territory?
Happiness can be an elusive beast, but our society is structured in such a way that a degree of comfort, and possibly even a measure of success, is often viewed as vital to the formula. A simple parental intention can give rise to some unexpected complications, and in our drive to pave the way for our offspring, we may create significant roadblocks for their growth and development.
Move over helicopters, the snowplough is here
You may have heard of the helicopter parent, a precursor to the snowplough. Helicopters tend to hover over their children, whirring in sufficient proximity to keep an all-seeing eye over activities, ever-ready to drop in and intervene as and when problems arise. Taking a hyper-involved stance in a child’s life, helicopters tend to take support for their child’s development to worrying extremes.
So what’s a ‘snowplough’ parent?
No, not the wedge your skis make when you glide down the ski slope, but the kind of machinery people see on a daily basis in places like Wisconsin or Finland, where snow falls so hard and fast it builds up into walls and drifts which block roads, paths and driveways. A snowplough is designed to clear these icy blockades away, making an immediate clearway through obstacles which may otherwise be managed, or at the very least are destined to eventually melt away on their own.
Experts blame the cultural phenomenon of snowplough parenting on an over-saturation of sensationalist news and media which has hyped parents into a constant state of fear and anxiety over seemingly endless dangers to their children. Snowplough parents go to great lengths to remove, restrict or remodel the natural obstacles and challenges children may otherwise gain confidence and resilience from negotiating on their own.
Sign’s You’re ‘ploughing
Are you overly concerned about your child’s anxiety levels? It’s important to know children regularly experience a natural state of nervousness, apprehension, or reticence to try new things. Snowploughs tend to want to protect their children from difficult experiences, but in so doing, may impact their ability to develop coping mechanisms and long-term resilience.
Do you constantly play alongside your toddler, complete your school-aged child’s homework with them, or linger at social events after you’ve dropped your teens off to make sure everything’s ok? Kids are in danger of failing to develop confidence and self awareness if they’re never in a situation where they need to safely fend for themselves.
Are your child’s choices of extra-curricular activities theirs, or yours? Pushing kids to do activities whether they’re keen on them or not, insisting on more than they can reasonably cope with or volunteering them without talking to them first could give rise to resentment on one hand, or set them up with an overblown sense of their own importance on the other.
Do you contact your kids’ teachers any time of the day, night or weekend? Expecting immediate attention from school staff about issues ranging from major learning difficulties to minor school-related activities is indicative of snowplough-type parenting, and this type of intervention could undermine your child’s ability to build relationships with others.
Do you fight their battles for them? From the earliest days right through to when kids leave home, the temptation to intervene and sort out problems on their behalf can be strong, but failing to give children the opportunity to face issues and resolve conflicts on their own may disadvantage them through the rest of their life.
Step Aside, Snowy
Children who are unable to handle feelings of frustration tend to give up easily, and as a result become less able to learn. Direct your innate snowplough tendencies to creating opportunities for your kids to conquer increasingly difficult but manageable tasks. Try to keep things in perspective and recognise your own attitudes have an impact on your children. Kids need to make mistakes, and sometimes as parents we need to let that happen.
Start to cultivate more of a ‘hang-back’ attitude, no matter the age of your children. Toddlers in a safe play area can be allowed to explore, climb and fall, secure in the knowledge you’re there. Establishing a sense of age-appropriate independence for older children will grow both self-esteem and self-reliance, important skills for coping with whatever life brings in the future. An array of resources online or at the library can help children learn to handle strong emotions, and to recognise and express their feelings. As a bonus, these great tools just might help us parents out a little, too.
When parental “guidance” goes too far. By Tiffany Brown.