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How to Avoid the Overparenting Trap: An Interview with Julie Lythcott-Haims

Check out some highlights from the Savvy Psychologist's recent interview with Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
August 5, 2016
Episode #120

Below are some highlights from the Savvy Psychologist interview with Julie Lythcott-Haims. Listen to the full interview using the red player on the right hand side of this page, or find the show on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify!

Savvy Psychologist: In your book, you covered this phenomenon of parents increasingly “being there” for their kids, which sounds supportive and harmless, but, taken to extremes, can become something else entirely. What happens when parents are there for their kids in the extreme?

Julie Lythcott-Haims: When we are there too much--when we are hovering over to make sure things are always going well, when we’re intervening when something doesn’t go well--we achieve a short-term win for our kids. They might get a higher grade because we’ve been there to correct the math homework, they might get more playing time because we’ve argued with the coach, they might get that opportunity they might otherwise not have gotten. But short-term wins come at a long-term cost. When we overhelp, we are depriving our kids of the chance to develop self-efficacy. We have self-efficacy when we see that our own actions have results, and when parents overhelp, we’re interrupting that natural developmental process. The kid ends up with a thinner sense of self because they haven’t done enough of the thinking and doing and coping for themselves. 

SP: Your book does far more than detail only the problems; it’s also full of suggestions and solutions. I was particularly struck by the section on the importance of possessing a sense of purpose. How is purpose defined, why is it so important, and how can parents helpbut not overhelp, of coursetheir kids develop it?

We have to get our own egos out of it. Instead, look for a spark of interest in our kids and then fan the flames.        

JLH: It’s sort of the rudder; it’s the thing that answers the question, “Why do you do what you do?” Purpose matters; life is more meaningful and rewarding when we have a sense of purpose. The trouble is we’ve decided that in furtherance of our kids getting into the “right colleges”—often that’s the driver these days—our kids need to find their passion, their path, their purpose by the time they’re 17 or 18 so they can show it to a college admissions dean. That’s not how humans find their purpose or their passion. So here’s how we parents can help, according to Bill Damon, who I quote in my book: it’s not for us to give our kids a passion or a purpose. We can no more give them that, he says, than we can change their personality. We have to get our own egos out of it. Instead, look for a spark of interest in our kids and then fan the flames. Whatever our means are, encourage that interest, rather than try to create a spark for them.

How to Raise an Adult is available now in paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Powell's, and Books-a-MillionYou can also listen to a clip from the audiobook below, available from Audible, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

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