What Is Intensive Parenting
Intensive parenting is a parenting approach characterized by a high level of parental involvement, which includes anticipating and solving children’s problems and enrolling them in numerous structured activities to enhance their physical, cognitive, and social abilities.
This parenting style is also known as helicopter parenting, overprotective parenting, or overparenting.
Hays (1996) first defined intensive mothering as a three-tenet parenting ideology.
- Mothers are inherently the better, essential parents.
- Mothering should be child-centered, requiring the mothers’ constant attention.
- Children should be considered sacred, delightful, and fulfilling to parents, and therefore they must be protected from the dangerous world at all costs.
In recent years, more American parents, especially middle-class parents, are adopting the kind of intensive parenting style common in the US.
Researchers tried to measure intensive parenting attitudes using the following five factors1.
- Essentialism – the belief that women are better at parenting than men
- Fulfillment – parents should feel fulfilled by their children.
- Stimulation – parents provide consistent intellectual stimulation
- Challenging – the belief that parenting is inherently difficult and exhausting.
- Child-Centered – parents’ lives revolve around their children
The rise of intensive parenting practices is rooted in the belief that consistent, involved parenting leads to better outcomes for children.
A wealth of research has shown that parental involvement is crucial for a child’s mental and physical health and academic achievement2. It has been linked to better social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes in children. Children who grow up in households with regular conversation and playtime tend to develop greater cognitive abilities, socialization skills, and trust.
In fact, early-life environmental deprivation can lead to a range of physical, cognitive, and social delays3.
This understanding has driven some parents to provide constant intellectual stimulation for their children, aiming to maximize their cognitive development.
Intensive parents believe their proactive and highly involved approach can improve child development. They may believe that more and more involvement is always better.
However, they tend to carry them to an extreme level, taking on responsibility for every aspect of their child’s development. They apply developmentally inappropriate levels of control and assistance to children, adolescents, and even emerging adults.
Here are some intensive parenting examples.
- Enroll the child in many expensive and time-consuming extracurricular activities.
- Complete their elementary school child’s science project for them.
- Intervene in their child’s social life by selecting their friends.
- Contact their child’s high school teacher to negotiate grades.
Effects of Intensive Parenting On Children
While well-intentioned, the effects of helicopter parenting may be contrary to what parents hope for.
Although a certain degree of parental involvement is beneficial, an overbearing approach can lead to unintended negative consequences.
One such consequence is the increased likelihood of internalizing problems, such as depression4 and anxiety5, in children with overly involved parents.
Parental over-involvement is also associated with lower self-efficacy in children, as they may not have the opportunity to develop confidence in their own abilities.
These children may struggle to cope with challenges independently due to constant intervention from their parents. They may become more reliant on others for decisions and solutions.
A lack of self-efficacy and confidence will eventually lead to mental health issues.
Socially, children of helicopter parents may experience alienation from their peers because parents dictate how their children will interact with others or restrict their exposure to social situations6.
Effects of Intensive Parenting On Parents
Intensive parenting strategies fail to deliver the desired results for children and negatively impact the parents themselves.
This parenting style can burden parents immensely, leading to detrimental mental health outcomes and parental burnout.
The pressure to constantly monitor and manage every aspect of a child’s life is stressful and exhausting. They feel guilty and anxious when they cannot be the “perfect parent.”7
Mothers who believe that children primarily need their mothers’ presence tend to have lower life satisfaction. This belief can contribute to an unhealthy sense of responsibility and an inability to delegate or share caregiving duties with other family members.
Those who believe parenting is inherently challenging are also more susceptible to experiencing stress and depression. An unrealistic expectation of perfection or the belief that every decision must be made on behalf of a child can negatively affect a parent’s mental health8.
How To Quit Intensive Parenting
Parents can move away from intensive parenting culture by adopting more balanced and developmentally appropriate parenting that encourages growth, independence, and resilience while supporting child well-being.
The following strategies may help you transition out of the intensive parenting approach:
Allow your child to explore, make mistakes, and learn from their experiences.
Gradually introduce age-appropriate responsibilities and challenges, such as completing chores themselves or managing their own schedules.
This promotes self-sufficiency and builds children’s self-esteem.
Set realistic expectations
Understand that every child develops at their own pace, and it’s essential to appreciate their unique strengths and weaknesses.
Avoid comparing your child to others, and be patient with their progress.
Celebrate small successes and focus on fostering a growth mindset in your child.
Set healthy boundaries
Create a balance between your own needs and your child’s needs.
Set limits on the time and energy you devote to parenting and ensure that you allocate time for self-care, hobbies, and social connections to avoid burnout.
This not only models a healthy lifestyle for your child but also helps prevent parental burnout.
Develop a support network
Elicit help from your partner and family to share caregiving responsibilities.
Seek out local parent support groups or online communities where you can discuss parenting challenges and learn from others’ experiences.
This can help alleviate the pressure to be the “perfect” parent and obtain insights and encouragement.
Prioritize quality time
Instead of micromanaging every aspect of your child’s life, create meaningful interaction with them.
Engage in activities that foster connection, communication, and emotional intelligence.
You can spend quality time with your child without sacrificing self-care. Quality time is defined by quality, not quantity. The amount of time doesn’t matter.
This can include family meals, outdoor adventures, or simply enjoying downtime together.
Be flexible and adaptable
Understand that parenting is a dynamic process, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Be flexible and open to adjusting your parenting style as your child grows and their needs change.
Seek professional guidance
If you’re struggling to transition away from intensive parenting ideology or feel overwhelmed, consider consulting a mental health professional.
They can provide tailored parenting advice and support to help you navigate the complexities of parenting and promote a healthier approach for you and your child. They can also recommend parenting books suitable for your situation and family environment.
With these strategies, parents can gradually transition from intensive parenting to a more balanced, nurturing approach that fosters healthy parent-child relationships.
Need Help Motivating Kids?
If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, this online course How To Motivate Kids is a great place to start.
It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate about learning.
Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.
- 1.Liss M, Schiffrin HH, Mackintosh VH, Miles-McLean H, Erchull MJ. Development and Validation of a Quantitative Measure of Intensive Parenting Attitudes. J Child Fam Stud. Published online June 30, 2012:621-636. doi:10.1007/s10826-012-9616-y
- 2.LaRocque M, Kleiman I, Darling SM. Parental Involvement: The Missing Link in School Achievement. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth. Published online April 21, 2011:115-122. doi:10.1080/10459880903472876
- 3.Feldman R. Parent?infant synchrony and the construction of shared timing; physiological precursors, developmental outcomes, and risk conditions. J Child Psychol & Psychiat. Published online March 2007:329-354. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2006.01701.x
- 4.Yap MBH, Pilkington PD, Ryan SM, Jorm AF. Parental factors associated with depression and anxiety in young people: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders. Published online March 2014:8-23. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2013.11.007
- 5.Shadach E, Ganor-Miller O. The role of perceived parental over-involvement in student test anxiety. Eur J Psychol Educ. Published online June 15, 2012:585-596. doi:10.1007/s10212-012-0131-8
- 6.van Ingen DJ, Freiheit SR, Steinfeldt JA, et al. Helicopter Parenting: The Effect of an Overbearing Caregiving Style on Peer Attachment and Self-Efficacy. Journal of College Counseling. Published online April 2015:7-20. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1882.2015.00065.x
- 7.Wall G. Mothers’ experiences with intensive parenting and brain development discourse. Women’s Studies International Forum. Published online May 2010:253-263. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2010.02.019
- 8.Rizzo KM, Schiffrin HH, Liss M. Insight into the Parenthood Paradox: Mental Health Outcomes of Intensive Mothering. J Child Fam Stud. Published online June 30, 2012:614-620. doi:10.1007/s10826-012-9615-z