The Showcase Magazine - Articles

Are you a snowplow parent?

By Michael D. Zito, Ph.D.

In recent years, it seems that more parents are putting a greater emphasis on helping their children achieve by protecting them from disappointments, difficulties, conflicts and obstacles. This protectiveness leads to parents doing too much for their children. While this may seem helpful at first, in the end it limits valuable learning opportunities that a child needs to build coping skills, confidence, self-esteem and self-worth. I have seen an increase in college freshmen returning home within a few weeks of starting college and/or struggling significantly due to this phenomenon. Most of these students acknowledge ‘snowplow’ parenting and the resulting perceived lack of confidence to be independent.

The reasons behind ‘snowplow’ parenting may include overprotectiveness out of a fear of seeing their child struggle, guilt about saying “no,” sparing the child from experiencing difficulties a parent had as a child, a parent’s own anxieties, living vicariously through child accomplishments, and social competitiveness.

Behaviors of ‘snowplow’ parents

  • Fear of saying no because their child will be mad or frustrated.
  • Micromanaging a child’s life.
  • Making decisions and/or doing for a child when the child should handle it and deal with the consequences.
  • Shielding the child from failure, discomfort, or struggles.
  • Doesn’t hold a child accountable by blaming others (teachers, peers and/or coaches).
  • Doing tasks for a child when they are capable themselves.
  • Protecting the child from consequences (“I can’t let them fail”).
  • Pushing for the most prestigious, rather than the “best fit” university.

Effects of ‘snowplow’ parenting may include anxiety, depression, perceived incompetence, low self-esteem/worth, poor coping, fear of decision-making, poor frustration tolerance and a sense of entitlement.

So, what can parents do?

  • Say no and allow disappointment and frustration to occur.
  • Don’t do for a child when they can/should be able to do it for themselves.
  • Challenge your child to attempt difficult tasks and learn from them.
  • Allow your child to experience struggle, mistakes and failure.
  • Coach them through life skill development, independence, and self-advocacy.
  • Lead by example and discuss your own problem-solving.

Michael D. Zito, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (#3599) with offices in Warren and Morristown. He practices clinical and sport psychology with children through adults and can be reached at Dr. Zito welcomes your questions and ideas for future articles.