Balancing Parenting: The Pitfalls of Hypervigilant Parenting and How to Promote Healthy Child Development

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Laura is a client of mine who’s a caring mother and a busy one at that. Her kids are active in everything from soccer to hockey to baseball, and academically, they’re thriving in clubs, and their grades are fine. But behaviorally, they’re unsettled. Kids can’t thrive in an environment full of unattainable expectations.

The problem? Between school, after-school activities, and homework, there is no downtime. And then they’re on their phones at night, and then it’s time for bed. The cycle repeats the next day.

This scenario is so common that I even see it in my own family; my granddaughter is overscheduled, too.

We all mean well — we really do!

Parenting is such a complicated and personal journey and, as parents, we want nothing but the best for our kids. Often, we’ll go to great lengths to ensure they’re on the right path, but sometimes this need to protect them can lead to what’s called hypervigilant parenting, which I talk about in my book, Loosen the Grip: Strategies for Raising Independent and Confident Critical Thinkers. It’s a term referring to the way we as parents can overstimulate and overprotect, which results in the opposite of what we intend!

Here, let’s talk about the positive and negative aspects of hypervigilant parenting and how you can achieve a balance that promotes a healthy environment with plenty of room for kids to grow and develop.

We want our children to grow up well-rounded, with the most opportunities we can possibly deliver to them. But in being vigilant parents, we can rob our kids of the space they need to think critically and fix situations themselves. They’re bullied and can’t deal with each other because they simply can’t figure it out.

The problem is this unsettledness extends into adulthood. Culturally, this has been happening for a long time. Americans are the most medicated people in the world — the United States makes up only 4.4% of the world’s population. Why? Because we’re overachieving, anxiety-ridden people, and that anxiety transfers to our children.

So how do we give our kids the chance to grow and develop into humans who are truly happy?

Give them space
Age-appropriate freedom is the name of the game. As your child gets older, they need age-appropriate responsibility and independence. As appropriate, give them the space to make their own decisions, for better or for worse. We all have to make mistakes in order to learn from them.

Stay educated
What are your kids’ favorite hobbies and interests and what are the risks and benefits of those activities? Knowing this at each stage of growth will help you make informed decisions about their age-appropriate freedoms.

Communicate without judgment
Build trust by being honest with each other, keeping the communication lines open by encouraging your kids to freely express their thoughts, fears, and feelings without judgment.

Collaborate to set boundaries
Working together to establish reasonable boundaries will help you both prioritize their safety without stifling their development.

Get help if you need it
If you find that your hypervigilant tendencies are indeed taking over and you need help, ask for it. A counselor or therapist can work with you to help you

Want to learn more about hypervigilant parenting? Check out my book here.