10 Signs You're a Micromanaging Parent

Child development experts explain why parental involvement sometimes goes too far.

From the WebMD Archives

You are a parent of the new millennium -- caring, involved, and determined to help your child succeed. But there are times when your involvement could do more harm than good.

"Micromanagement goes against natural development," says clinical psychologist and author Marc Nemiroff, PhD. "It takes away the child's experience and [impedes] his learning how to handle himself in the world. Part of the job of the parent is not to do everything for the child, but to help him do things more and more independently."

Gail Tanner, a third grade math teacher in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., agrees. "Kids don't develop the skills they need to weather the rough spots in life if their parents never let them practice those skills."

With that in mind, WebMD asked child development and parenting experts to identify 10 signs you may be micromanaging your child.

1. You constantly interfere during play dates.

"One of the telltale signs of micromanagement," Nemiroff tells WebMD, "is during a play date when the parent steps in immediately" at the first sign of conflict. "The danger is the child doesn't learn to be on his own in the world, to manage the conflicts that may arise."

As long as safety isn't an issue, parents should wait a few minutes before stepping in, says Benjamin Siegel, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. "You have to intervene if kids are getting hurt," he tells WebMD, "but oftentimes they work it out themselves." If you do have to step in, try to be an arbitrator rather than coming up with a solution for the children.

2. You obsess over what your child eats.

Many parents are overly concerned about what their children eat, Nemiroff says. "If a child is truly not eating enough and losing weight, that's worth discussing with your pediatrician. But when you have a picky eater [who gets] sufficient protein, does it really matter?"

Arguing over food can set up an unhealthy power struggle, says Ruth A. Peters, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of the parenting manual, Laying Down the Law. Peters cautions parents against becoming "control freaks" at meal time. "If the kid wants last night's pizza for breakfast, that's OK. If the kid won't try a new food, so what? It's OK to go along with the kid's quirks."

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Clothing and Homework

3. You clash with your child over clothing.

Peters says parents should think about what's important before arguing over clothes. "What's important is safety, academics, and values," she tells WebMD. "Pretty much anything short of that, you can begin to let go." She recommends allowing children to "dress to fit in at their school, even if you think it's dumb-looking. See it from their point of view, not always from your point of view."

4. You interfere with your child's homework.

Nemiroff says micromanaging homework time may be appropriate for children with certain learning disabilities, but not for the average student. "By second or third grade in a non-LD [learning disabled] child, the parent should have very little to do with homework, unless the child says, 'Can you help me understand this problem?' Once you clarify, you back away." Parents who provide too much help with homework don't give their children a chance to figure things out themselves, he says.

Tanner, the third grade teacher, recalls an intelligent student who was "not very confident in his ability to do things well. It didn't take long to figure out why. His mom, a doctor, would do his projects for him 'because he didn't do them right.' And he was more than happy to let her." Tanner stresses that it's fine to help when a child asks, but "if more than one teacher has hinted that you may be doing too much, then it's probably time to listen."

School and Sports

5. You argue with your child's teacher over grades.

"Grades are between the kid and the teacher," says Siegel, the pediatrician. Parents should "ask what their children are learning, show interest, praise them for their accomplishments, but don't try to take over the teacher's role."

Tanner says parents who intervene every time their child brings home something less than an "A" create several problems:

  • The child develops the unrealistic idea that he is always entitled to an "A."
  • The child never learns to advocate for himself.
  • The child believes his parents will always fix everything that goes wrong.

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"The goal of getting an 'A' is not nearly as important as developing the skills to be independent, capable, thinking adults," Tanner tells WebMD. "Children need to be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. They need to struggle through difficult tasks and learn to persevere."

6. You argue with your child's coach over plays.

"Attending soccer games is very important," Nemiroff says. "After every game, say you're proud. But that's it. Be encouraging without getting worked up over the details of the game." He says you've crossed the line "when you ask the coach, 'How much did you play my child and for how long?'"

7. You regularly call your child during school.

All our experts agree that calling your kids or text-messaging them at school is inappropriate. "That's the parent inserting himself in the child's day and it is unnecessary," Nemiroff says.

Siegel says this habit can be especially troubling for teenagers. "If an adolescent feels their parent is always checking up on them, it gets them furious and angry. It doesn't let them explore their autonomy." If you need to communicate with your child during the day, agree on a predetermined check-in time -- preferably after school lets out.

8. You demand a "play by play" of your child's day.

There's a difference between asking your child about his or her day and "becoming the district attorney," Nemiroff says. Unless you suspect drugs or another serious problem, there's no need to press a child for every detail of every hour of the day.

Privacy and Pressure

9. You spy on your child.

Spying can take many different forms, from snooping on your teen's blog to searching your child's room without probable cause. "Searching your child's room is a miserable idea unless you suspect drugs," Nemiroff cautions. If you're only concerned about the mess, "Close the door. It's not that important."

One thing that doesn't constitute spying, Nemiroff says, is checking out the live video stream from your toddler's day care center. "If you're looking on the web site to get a feel for what are they up to, that's not micromanaging -- that's keeping an eye from a distance and letting the child have his own experience."

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10. You have already picked a college for your toddler.

Nemiroff says he has seen parents choose a preschool based on the college they hope their child will attend 15 years in the future. "How can you possibly know where the child will belong, what type of academic personality he will have?" He recommends parents focus on the present and choose a preschool "that is appropriate for the child's needs now."

Siegel says parents who feel "intense pressure to have kids come out perfect and get the right grades and get into the right college" may be bringing home the workplace culture. He says the goal of child rearing should not be to create "a commodity or product to be marketed to colleges," but to bring up kids who are sensitive, creative, and confident.

Breaking the Habit

If you think you may be micromanaging your child, Peters says you should break the habit "like any bad habit -- start little." Begin backing off in areas of little consequence -- for example, allowing your child to decide whether or not to make the bed each morning. "If you're not micromanaging about little things, your kid will take you more seriously about the things that really matter," she says.

Whenever you're tempted to micromanage, Tanner suggests analyzing your reasons for stepping in. Will it help the child become more independent and develop essential life skills? "If the answer is no, then maybe the parent needs to step back and let their child try on their own."

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sources

SOURCES: Marc Nemiroff, PhD, clinical psychologist; co-author, A Child's First Book About Play Therapy. Gail Tanner, teacher, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Benjamin Siegel, MD, professor of pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine. Ruth A. Peters, PhD, clinical psychologist; author, Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting to Keep Your Kids on Track, Out of Trouble, and (Pretty Much) Under Control. American Psychological Association: "Communication Tips for Parents."

© 2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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