You know, it seems like intensive parenting has become all the rage over the past couple of decades. According to a recent survey of 3,600 parents, folks nowadays are convinced that intensive parenting is the gold standard of child-rearing. But here’s the kicker, what we’ve come to think of as “good” parenting might not be all that good for our kids. Or for us, for that matter.
Intensive parenting, a form of control-freak parenting, is all about curating every little detail of your child’s life while shielding them from any hint of hardship. It even extends to this wild desire to mold our kids’ identities, like turning them into star athletes or top students, all in the name of securing their success in life. But here’s the twist – this approach tends to leave our children struggling to live life on their own terms, with a genuine sense of self and a grasp of what truly matters to them, rather than what their parents think should matter.
From what I’ve seen in my therapy practice and in the community, supported by books like Michele Borba’s “Thrivers” and Jennifer Wallace’s “Never Enough,” too many kids and teens today are missing that sense of agency over their choices. They’re feeling burnt out and are under the delusion that their self-worth hinges on straight A’s and shiny trophies. And to make matters worse, this intensive parenting gig demands heaps of time and energy from parents who are already battling high levels of burnout.
But hold on, there’s a better way, a way to break free from the chains of intensive parenting. It’s called autonomy-supportive parenting, and it’s all about nurturing independence and resilience in our kids. In my book, “Autonomy-Supportive Parenting: Reduce Parental Burnout and Raise Competent, Confident Children,” I delve into what more than three decades of research comparing autonomy-supportive and controlling parenting have shown – both parents and children fare better when we chuck intensive parenting out the window in favor of the autonomy-supportive approach.
So, what exactly is autonomy-supportive parenting? Well, it’s rooted in the idea that each of us has three fundamental human needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy means having a sense of agency and the freedom to explore our values and identity while recognizing our responsibility to respect others. Competence is all about having confidence in our skills and abilities. And relatedness is about feeling connected and belonging in our relationships and communities. When these three needs are met, people tend to be happier and healthier.
With autonomy-supportive parenting, we’re all about nurturing these basic human needs in our children. Research has shown that autonomy-supportive parenting is linked to a slew of positive outcomes for kids, from higher self-esteem and better psychological health to improved emotional, social, and academic skills.
Now, you might be wondering, how does this whole autonomy-supportive parenting thing work? It’s a parenting framework that involves several strategies. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the techniques for various age groups:
For Early Childhood (Ages 0-6):
- Give your littlest ones tasks that they find helpful to the family. This shows them you have faith in their abilities, boosting their confidence and motivation to be helpful.
- Offer choices whenever possible. For example, “Two more minutes or five more minutes on the iPad?”
- Explain the reasoning behind rules. For instance, “We pick up our toys so nobody steps on and breaks them.”
For School Age (Ages 7-12):
- Ask questions to understand your child’s perspective. Before giving a speech on the dangers of social media, ask them what they know about the risks of social media.
- Get them involved in decision-making. What do they think is the best homework routine? How many activities do they want in their schedule?
- Expect independence. When they come to you to solve a problem, don’t fix it for them. Encourage them to figure it out or handle an uncomfortable situation, like resolving a conflict with a friend or dealing with not being in the same class as their bestie.
For Adolescence (Ages 10-17):
- Show curiosity instead of judgment. When your teen makes a poor choice, approach them with openness to understand how they made that choice, rather than launching into a lecture.
- Use empathy. Teens crave understanding. When you’re more curious, it’s easier to grasp their experience and express empathy for their struggles.
- Express trust. Let your teen know you trust them to solve their problems and manage challenges. You’re there for support and guidance, but they don’t need you to do it for them.
Autonomy-supportive parenting is the ticket to letting go of control, and it paves the way for kids to grow up confident, resilient, and independent. Plus, when we stop micromanaging, we create space for more autonomy in our own lives, making us happier and healthier too.