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What happens if you help too much?

by Andrew Maisel
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When are helpful parents, not helpful? We've all been there. You glance at a homework assignment your child has completed, and recoil in horror at the errors you see. It could be a math worksheet, a book report, or a term paper. And let's not forget science fair projects! What's a parent to do? How much involvement is helpful? And when is it too much involvement?

A recent, five year longitudinal study published in the Journal of Personality, tracked almost 300 primary school children and their parents, to assess the impact of "intrusive" parenting over time.

The study design was interesting, beginning with the question of identifying intrusive parents. The researchers accomplished this with an interesting assessment exercise. Each child was given some puzzles to solve, with the parent's help. Parents were deemed very intrusive if they interfered with their child's problem solving, or took control of the puzzle. Followup tests were given each year of the study.

Over the course of the study, the researchers evaluated the children for signs of "maladaptive perfectionism". Maladaptive perfectionism goes beyond setting high standards, to setting unreasonable or unattainable goals, and suffering depression and severe anxiety when they fail.

What the researchers found was that children with intrusive parents had a greater tendency to be overly critical of themselves, and that this tendency increased over time.

Bottom-line: it is possible to be too intrusive and help too much, and your children will suffer as a result.



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