Q.  I’m trying very hard to prevent problems for my teenagers and to fix the ones I identify. I have done this since they were babies. They tell me to stop smothering them, to stop interfering, but I just want to give them the best start possible in life. Recently a friend told me that not only am I creating dependence in my five children but also depriving them of the opportunity to learn how to deal with the ups and down of life now, in childhood. I told her she was way off base but decided to ask your opinion.

A. I have a name for this: Hover-Craft Parenting. I do not recommend it. It does not prepare children to deal effectively with problems they encounter in life now and will encounter in adulthood. In fact, I heard a counselor say the other day that males who had had a cushioned childhood have far more difficulty dealing with life in adulthood as compared to males who were not over-protected.

It sounds as if your children have trained you:  to pick up after them, nag them about their chores and homework, fix food for them at all hours of the day (and sometimes night), step in and take over for them in any stressful situation, and do a myriad of other things for them that they need to do for themselves. I doubt you have developed this pattern in an attempt to handicap them in life—but that is generally the result. Is this because you feel emotionally uncomfortable when your child is uncomfortable?

I realize you are a single parent. There are millions of them all over this planet. You cannot make up for their father being absent by becoming a Hover-Craft Parent. When you continually “fix” things for your children you are, in effect, robbing them of a growth opportunity. In order for children to learn how to do hard things, they must be allowed to experience hard times. In order for children to learn that for every action there will be an outcome, they must be allowed to experience the consequences of their actions and choices. There is no way to truly master something without doing it.

Effective parenting involves:

  • Setting a few appropriate and realistic rules and expectations (a few! – there are only 10 commandments, after all).
  • Ensuring that the children understand the realistic rules and expectations, along with the consequences
  • Holding children accountable, calmly and consistently (no arguing and fighting, no yelling and screaming or crying)
  • Learning to handle your own emotions and feelings in order to avoid handicapping your children because your brain is uncomfortable or feels sorry for them
  • Affirming the children as they achieve the realistic rules and expectations and doing something fun together periodically as a tangible reward for their mastery
  • Functioning as a role model and a coach (your children will be more likely to do what they see you do rather than what they hear you “say”)

My brain’s opinion is that if you really want to prepare your children for a successful adulthood, you’ll starting teaching them now how to handle situations themselves, how to follow through and complete an assignment or expectation, to feel good about themselves as they hone these skills. An effective parent is a role model and a coach.