Parenting without overdoing it

How to step back and let children build self-sufficiency

Shelby Vanbuskirk, a Lee’s Summit mom and school teacher in the Kansas City area, often has heard second- and third-grade students say they can’t complete simple tasks such as getting items out of their backpacks or desks.

At the same time, she also sees many parents with young children jump every time their toddler trips to try to prevent all their falls. She believes the lack of confidence in the school-age children she works with might begin with the excessive intervention parents often give in earlier stages of development.

How do parents effectively teach children the life skills and independence they need to thrive? What exactly is overparenting?

“Overparenting is doing for a child what they can do for themselves,” Vanbuskirk says. “Now, there are times we do it for them because it's safer or the child needs a break, but overparenting is not letting your kids figure things out for themselves through harmless mistakes and falls.”

Amy Speidel, a master instructor for Conscious Discipline, says to correct overparenting, parents need to look at the cause of the issue.

“It’s important to know why this happens,” Speidel says. “Why are parents doing this in a way we’ve never done before?”

To that end, she says society was much different 60 years ago. There was asphalt on playgrounds, child safety in cars was an afterthought, no one wore a helmet on a bike, and there were no cell phones to constantly check up on a child. Similarly, little consideration was given for child safety in the emotional arena. If someone called a child a name at school, the child just had to deal with it.

Eventually, society began to see some of these things needed to change, but the changes kept coming.

“It went from where we needed to go for children’s safety to overprotection,” Speidel says. “The line got blurred.”

As a result, she says, children sometimes don’t have the confidence they can walk through this world and are still calling their parents for basic things when they are older.

Overall, she says overparenting tries to eliminate any consequence for a child. One way to recognize whether someone is overparenting is seeing a child be ready to step out into more responsibility, but a parent holds him back for fear it will not go well for the child.

Similarly, she says oftentimes a child can do a task but perhaps not as well as the parent. The parent then chooses to do that task because the child can’t complete it perfectly. This is another form of overparenting and only teaches the child he should be perfect at everything.

Instead, Speidel says parents need to dig deep in themselves and decide whether they are willing to let their child face the natural consequence of a choice so he can become resilient and responsible. She says natural consequences are a good learning tool for children.

For example, if a child refuses to finish her homework, letting her receive a bad grade and face the resulting consequences is preferable to doing the homework for the child. Similarly, if despite warnings a school-age child keeps forgetting to put his bike up in the garage and it gets stolen when left outside, letting the child feel the loss of the bike and save up money for a new one will help teach him to take good care of his possessions.

When a parent decides to let the natural consequences run their course, Speidel says, it’s important to be compassionate with kids in the discussion of the consequences and what they mean.

“Be curious about their experience and help them learn from the consequence,” she says.

Another form of overparenting can come from being too involved in how a child compares with other children. A parent’s being too concerned with how everyone perceives the child might only teach the child she is deficient in some way.

Andrea Garbi, a Blue Springs mom of three, says she has learned to calm down and step back a bit over time as a mom. She doesn’t help her kids out as much at the park as she used to and doesn’t intervene as often when they argue over something. She says the result is her kids are learning some conflict resolution skills on their own, as well as how to climb and accomplish physical tasks at the park.

“I was a big-time helicopter mom, but I have learned they will be better off if I just sit back and let them figure things out,” she says.

Garbi also says she has thought back to her childhood and all the falls, spills and bruises she took and how it made her tougher as a result.


When should I be protective?

  • While allowing for natural consequences to happen, taking into consideration what might happen if parents go too far and never intervene is important.
  • “In a perfect world, free-range parents are probably more on the mark, but not everyone has (children’s) best interest at heart,” Amy Speidel, master instructor for Conscious Discipline, says.
  • To this end, she says it’s important to pay attention to the anomaly of what could happen in a given situation, while still allowing for everyday experiences.
  • “It’s always gauging what the consequences would be if it went poorly,” Speidel says.
  • She advises parents to separate out what makes them uncomfortable with what isn’t safe or responsible for the child.

Allison Gibeson is a stay-at-home mom and writer from Lee’s Summit.

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