Kids need to explore in order to learn. In fact, most child psychologists and educators would agree that exploration is perhaps the primary means of learning in which kids can become more confident, capable, and engaged learners. And it would seem obvious that confidence, capabilities, and engagement in learning are all favorable characteristics parents want to see in their kids.
But sometimes, parents worry. They worry a lot. And when people worry, they try to gain control over the things they worry about. So if we worry about our children’s health, for instance, we ensure that they eat well, sleep well, and have good opportunities for exercise.
These are all positive actions and enhance our children’s health. Exploration, on the other hand, can lead to worry because exploration implies risk. In fact, the core of exploration is risk. And risk makes many parents feel uncomfortable.
An uncomfortable parent may try to manage the risk, but in doing so, you may inadvertently be working against your child’s healthy development. This fear can lead to micromanagement.
Micromanaging takes on many forms, but can often include things like:
All of these may be 100 percent reasonable actions to be taking under certain circumstances, but if they are happening more often than not, you may just be micromanaging a bit more than necessary. Being aware of your child’s social media habits, for instance, can be done in a way that respects their privacy while also ensuring that they are engaged in safe online behavior.
Overall, it’s okay to be worried – but it’s also okay to let kids get hurt a bit too. Children are tougher than we give them credit for!
Lev Vygotsky, a well know developmental psychologist, spoke of the Zone of Proximal Development. This basically refers to what a child can do independently, what they can do with some adult support, and what they are not yet capable of doing. To avoid micromanaging, try to ensure that you stay out of the zone of things they can do and provide support for things they really need support with.
As adults, we don’t like it when someone offers unsolicited help when we are doing something we are totally capable of doing – think about someone coming to your house and telling you how to vacuum the floor. You’ve vacuumed the floor hundreds of times and you know what you are doing, so your reaction may be one of frustration or even anger. The same applies to kids.
Your concern for your child is intrinsic to being a good parent, so don’t feel bad if you find yourself micromanaging – but, if you do, try to change your behavior accordingly. Kids need to take risks, and your role as supportive adults is to support them in healthy risk-taking.
Dr. Brent Macdonald is a frequent guest on CBC, Global Television, Breakfast Television, and CTV. He is currently the lead psychologist with his own practice, Macdonald Psychology Group (complexlearners.com), which in addition to providing counseling and assessment services, also provides consultation services to educators and parents.
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