You've heard terms like "tiger mom" and "helicopter parent." We certainly ran into our share of parents who were overinvolved in their kids' lives during our years as university administrators.
We too, sometimes, thought that additional oversight, assistance, structure or discipline at home could produce the needed improvement, advantage or winning edge on our kids' part.
What we want
We have found, through lots of experience, that the best parent is somebody who listens, supports, advises and loves while still recognizing his child's independence. We have seen many parent models who are determined that their children be the star they weren't, reach the summa cum laude status that they didn't or get into the program or profession that they couldn't. We've also known parents who were so afraid of their child's failure that they inserted themselves in many areas where their absence would have been much more beneficial.
When he was a young father, Bill remembers reading about letting your child struggle to get the wagon over the break in the sidewalk rather than barging in to lift it over the impediment and fix the problem. This lesson came back to him many times as he raised his children: Let them figure it out.
Lessons, of course, need to be at the child's level. Bill couldn't expect his son to arrive at a solution or complete a task for which he was ill equipped or developmentally unprepared.
Some things we've learned
» Don't overdo compliments. Recognize your children's successes, but refrain from praising them too often. They can learn to rely on that praise and develop a false sense of their abilities. Help them discover their strengths.
» Stay back. It's not "How did we do on that paper/test?" Or "did we get an acceptance letter?" We learned if we intervened too often we could diminish confidence and increase dependence. It is our experience that inserting yourself into a challenge, project or decision when your child is capable of figuring out a solution can reduce confidence and create anger.
» Appreciate failure. So many lessons can be learned, in sports, academics and life - missing the mark, forgetting the deadline, losing the game, not getting the role. Teach your kids not to be afraid to try. At the university, we knew so many students who focused exclusively on their grade point average. They would say, "I can't take that class. It's too hard. I don't want to mess up my GPA." But education is about learning and discovery, not about carefully balancing a GPA. You don't ask your doctor what her GPA was. You want to know about her experience and what she learned and how good she will be at taking care of you.
» Match risk with responsibility. Know your child and appreciate her ability to handle responsibility. We knew early on we had to risk letting our kids go and grow in order for them to become responsible and self-reliant.
Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of "Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers." Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter at Dads2Dadsllc. Contact them at tomandbill@Dads2Dadsllc.com.