I'm going to put my cards on the table and say that I'm definitely not a 'curling parent'. And if ever I was, I'm definitely not anymore...
I have three boys – 8, 5 and 3 – all very independent in their own right with one perhaps being a bit more ‘demanding’ than the others. We don’t and never have ‘child-proofed’ our home. OK, we don’t leave knives lying around the place or the fireguard off the fireplace, but we’ve never used a stair gate, we’ve never put covers on plug sockets and we’ve never bubble wrapped a coffee table.
I say this in jest of course and as a parent, I protect my kids as best I can but there are always going to be times and situations when I can’t protect them and I accept that. All I can do is equip them the best I can, so that they can protect themselves the best they can.
So what, you might ask, is a ‘curling parent’? Danish psychologist Bent Hougaard coined the term "Curling Parents" to refer to those parents who try to sweep away all obstacles in their offspring's path so that their child can go through life without the slightest bump. They continually make sure that nothing is interfering with or negatively affecting their child.
It’s a somewhat regimented and directed parenting style with the goal of protecting the physical and mental well-being of the child. But what’s wrong with that? Well, the downside is that parents are unconsciously at risk of stifling the child. What they are doing is potentially curtailing their children’s chance of developing essential life skills and feelings of personal responsibility and achievement.
As parents, we instinctively want to protect our kids and keep them safe and that’s perfectly reasonable. Sometimes however, without quite realising it, this can lead us to become ‘curling parents’. The trick is to recognise when these overprotective/over-controlling instincts kick in and to intentionally back off to let our kids learn to take care of themselves
Listen, we all know that parenting is nerve-wracking. Sure, half of us probably don’t know what we’re doing most of the time – this is probably more true with a first child – and TV shows and news articles continually pumping out nightmare stories or ‘what if’ scenarios obviously doesn’t help.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as the next parent for helping my kids to retrieve their toys from other children who snatched them away, or helping my kids to ask for something that they want. It’s only when my eldest first reached the age of "NO, I’ll do it myself" or "why can’t you just let me do it myself" that I realised I was being more of a hindrance than a help.
So what are the signs that you may be a curler parent?
Knowingly or unknowingly and out of sheer love and concern for your child, you might be following the curler style.
For instance, if you find yourself answering questions on behalf of your child or you have heart palpitations at the thought of your child going on a playdate, or it’s never crossed your mind to have your kids help out with making dinner or emptying the dishwasher (because knives are sharp) then maybe, just maybe, you’re a curler parent.
Other signs might include:
- Not allowing your child to make age-appropriate choices
- Not allowing your child to tackle their own problems.
- Constantly negotiating on behalf of your child
- You shield your child from failure
- You’ve been known to disinfect playground rides.
- Your child’s first overnight will be in college.
What are the effects of curler parenting?
Research has shown that parents start being overprotective with a genuine intention but in the process of engaging with kids and their lives, they lose the actual perspective of what they want.
So rather than helping their children it can have an adverse affect such as:
Low self-esteem and confidence
The over-involvement of the parent makes the child believe that their parents will not trust them if they do something independently. It, therefore, leads to lack of self-esteem and confidence.
Immature coping skills
When the parent is always there to prevent the problem at first sight or clean up the mess, the child can never learn through failure, disappointment or loss. Studies also reveal that helicopter parents can make their kids less competent in dealing with tensions and pressures of life.
Curler parenting can often lead to increased levels of depression and anxiety in a child. Children that always look for guidance can often become too nervous to make a decision when left alone.
Sense of entitlement complex.
When parents get over-involved in their child's academic, social and sporting activities, children can quickly get accustomed to always having their parents to fulfill their needs. This can make them more demanding as they feel that it is their right to have what they want.
Underdeveloped life skills.
Over involvement of parents can also lead to children refusing to learn basic life skills such as making/packing lunches, tying shoelaces, cleaning a mess, emptying the dishwasher, general housework and cooking a meal.
How to avoid curler parenting
If while reading this you suspect that you might be guilty of 'curling' or you realise (now) that you might be stifling your child’s independence, fear not! A few simple adjustments to your approach can make all the difference.
Similar to any habit – good or bad – make a conscious effort to avoid doing things a certain way. For instance:
Stop hovering over your child
If your child can dress themselves and tie their own shoelaces then let them do that. If they can pour their own cereal or make a sandwich for themselves then let them. Try to avoid holding them back from doing things that suit their age.
As mentioned above, try not to get over-involved in your child’s academic, social and sporting activities.
Children, like adults, need to learn for themselves (within reason of course) and disappointment, discomfort and even pain is all part of growing up. If as parents we shield our children from life’s hardships and struggles they are never going to learn if we are always doing it for them.
Try to stop worrying or over-thinking about all the things that could happen to your child. Easier said than done I know, but try to let go of all those negative thoughts such as: "Is he/she interacting enough with people in school?", "What will he/she become when they grow up" "Is his/her shyness because of lack of confidence?"
Try to avoid searching for evidence to confirm your worries about your child.
Scale back on "Yes"
Kids are cute. Kids are sharp. Kids know how to play up to their parents. If you are too obliging to them they will take advantage of it.
Let them chose a different path
You made your kids but you cannot make them become something that you want.
If you over-influence a child they’ll struggle to perceive their own hopes and dreams. Let children explore their own thoughts and opinions. If they think differently from you, so be it. Listen to them rather than shut them down. Discuss it with them. Let them express themselves
If your child chooses a path that is different from what you have wished/decided for her don’t take it personally. They are children after all, not clones.
Don’t ignore YOU
Don’t forget to focus on your own life. If your child becomes the focal point of your life it’s very easy to neglect your own life and to stop thinking about your needs, your interests, your relationships, your social life and your activities.Step back and reassess.
Dad of 3. Husband of 1. Master of None. All opinions are my own unless my wife tells me otherwise.
- Childhood Self-Regulation as a Mechanism Through Which Early Over Controlling Parenting Is Associated With Adjustment in Preadolescence. American Psychology Association:
- Helicopter parenting socially anxious kids may backfire. Nauert, R., PhD:
- Families as they really aare: American Helicopters, Danish Curling Brooms, and British Lawnmowers. Michelle Janning Professor of Sociology.
- Curling Parents, Colbert, and the Politics of Hurt Feelings. Laurie Essig Ph.D