Parents who praise their children too much, give constant advice, ask too many questions, or joke around all the time are not doing their children any favors. While parents who become fused with their children usually have the best interests of their children in mind, they harm their children by inadvertently serving their own insecurities. Such expressions of too much attachment result in children becoming dependent and incapable, or secretive, detached and rebellious.
We are talking about extremes of course. It is equally harmful to be excessively critical, indifferent, or humorless. This article, however, is intended for parents who tend to be too attached and involved in their children’s lives.
Praise for Self-esteem
In hopes of fostering their children’s self-esteem, parents sometimes praise and compliment their children too much, which can result in the following problems:
1. When a child gets used to a lot of praise, he or she can become dependent on external validation, losing sight of his or her own internal compass.
2. Too much praise can lead a child to feel inadequate because excessive praise actually expresses the parent’s anxiety over the child’s self-esteem. Expressions of support tinged with anxiety will then backfire.
3. The child sees that the parent is being disingenuous and trying to manipulate the child. As a result, the child loses respect for the parent.
4. Too much praise can result in children becoming fearful of being found out, that is, fearful of not living up to being as wonderful, creative, and smart as they are supposed to be. As a result, they stop trying.
It is generally nice to receive praise and recognition for a job well-done. Parents shouldn’t go to the extreme to ignoring their children’s hard work and accomplishments. But they should avoid trying too hard to make the child feel good.
Too Much Advice
Giving a great deal of advice is often an expression of excessive attachment. Parents who give endless cautionary advice cause their children to tune them out and ignore their warnings. These well-intended but meddlesome parents are the last people children will turn to when they really do need advice.
While it’s important to keep children safe (age appropriately), too much direction implies that the parent thinks the child has no common sense or judgment. This often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the child may learn to feel incapable of having good judgment.
Analogously, in the United States, we are warned of every potential hazard on roads, ski slopes, and at playgrounds. As a result of expecting to be warned about every potential danger, we often stop paying adequate attention to our surroundings to notice danger with our own eyes.
In effect, children develop better judgment when they have to practice using their judgment while growing up rather than counting on receiving warnings from others. Children learn best through experiencing their own mistakes and learning from consequences. Ideally, they are gradually given more and more age-appropriate freedom and responsibility, avoiding both extremes of being mollycoddled and being neglected.
A parent who is overly interested in the details of his or her child’s life is often unknowingly trying to satisfy his or her own longings and needs. Perhaps the parent wasn’t a successful athlete or wasn’t as popular as desired. Perhaps the parent didn’t get the appreciation and attention craved for from his or her own parents. He or she can now attempt to live the desired childhood through his or her own child’s life.
However, too much interest in every detail of their children’s friends, activities, and grades causes them to feel invaded by the parents’ attempt to fuse with them. Again it causes them to become either compliant, incapable, and dependent, or secretive, detached, and rebellious.
It’s better for parents to live their own lives, while being open to conversation without pushing themselves into every detail of their children’s lives.
Too Much Joking
A sense of humor is a wonderful trait to pass on to one’s children. Too much joking around, however, broadcasts the parent’s need to be liked and accepted by the child. Too much jesting breeds over-familiarity that prevents the needed separation between the parent and the child. It also can result in a lack of respect for the parent because the parent appears incapable of taking him- or herself seriously.
Parents may think they are being loving by praising, joking, advising, or inquiring into their children’s lives. Yet these attempts at interacting with their children often reveal the parents’ unmet needs rather than respond to the children’s own needs. In excess, these ways of relating squash the healthy separation and respect between parents and children.
Ideally, we can strive to relate to our kids without trying to give them the childhood we wished we had. Instead, we can leave enough separation that will allow us to respect their differences in personality and desires, and allow them to develop judgment and independence, through which they develop self-esteem. Ironically, when we try a little less, our relationships often become more natural, connected, and respectful. When we stand back a little, we also allow more space for our children to grow and to move toward us, because they won’t dread being overwhelmed by excessive parental energy.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD