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April 22, 2024

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Rise of the Snowplow Parent & How to Avoid It

"Snowplow parent" is a term creeping into current conversations, and it's the most intense parenting style of all. Should you clear away the obstacles to your child's success?

It's your job to support your children and use what you know to prepare them for the future, only apparently, some parents are taking it a bit far. (Quick reference to the current college admission's scandal). Parents who never let their children make mistakes or even face challenges on their own are today's "snowplow parents." Gone are the days of the hovering helicopter parent bent on keeping a child from getting a boo-boo; today's helicopters have morphed into plows aiming to clear all obstacles in the way.
    Why is that such a bad thing?
    Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, says snowplow parents have good intentions only they are getting parenting backward. Parents should prepare kids for the road ahead, Lythcott-Haims says, not prepare the road for the kid. With snowplow parenting, parents not only constantly monitor where their kids are, but they know who they're with and have even arranged everything that they're doing — and will do. It's ultra time-consuming yet many parents think they're doing the right thing.


Research shows that plenty of parents have embraced this "intensive" style of parenting today. A recent New York Times and Morning Consult parenting poll shows that snowplow parents are so thoroughly involved in their children's daily lives, they set appointments for their grown children. With younger kids, snowplow parents go out of their way to remind their kids about school projects and looming deadlines, sports' practices and schedules and helping their kids study for tests. Lythcott-Haims says snowplow parenting will actually hinder your kid's growth into adulthood.

Here's how NOT to Be a Snowplow Parent:

1) Let your kids fail because this is how they LEARN:
Mistakes are the very essence of learning. If failure is seen as a sign of incompetance rather than a normal thing, children will start avoiding challenges. Try to give your kids a "growth mindset" about failure so they see it as a healthy stepping stone to success. Don't protect your kids from low-risk, natural consequences. Use experience of failures as a chance for kids to grow and learn.

2) Teach your kids that some obstacles come with difficult feelings.
Research shows that when children are protected from difficult emotions and experiences while they're young, they may have a hard time with fulfillment in relationships in the future. You can't protect your children from difficult feelings that happen in life, but you CAN model appropriate behavior to your child so he learns how to deal. Helping kids manage hard emotions begins by validating them and providing an open environment where they feel safe to express themselves.

3) Give your kids increased levels of responsibility.
You can raise your kids to take on responsibilities for themselves by supporting their responsibility efforts. Teach your kids that if you make a mess, you clean up your own mess. From the time a child is young, let them "do it myself!" as much as they want to. It WILL be more work for you when your child is little, but it teaches your child "how" and supports their efforts to learn. As much as possible as your child grows, provide routines and structures such as "Every Saturday morning we clean our rooms before we play," for example.

4) Don't bail your child out of a hard situation.
Be available for problem-solving and always be ready to help your child with fears and worries about situations. Talk them through things but don't handle things for them. Let your kids handle their problems themselves, as much as possible, speaking for themselves, whether it requires offering an "I'm sorry," or some other explanation.


About the Author

Susan Swindell Day, Editor

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.