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Parental Anxiety Manifested Through "Extreme Parenting"

Children develop resilience when encouraged to overcome struggles on their own.

Key points

  • Helicopter parents hover over every aspect of their children’s lives.
  • Overly strict parents can demand perfection from their children.
  • Overly indulgent parents often focus on having their children be as happy as possible.

Most parents have the best interests of their children in mind as they shepherd them through their early life. However, the parents’ mental state affects how they raise their children. In my experience, highly anxious parents manifest three forms of “extreme parenting” that cause their children to develop predictable problems that, over time, can lead to the children’s development of poor mental health (McGinley, 2018). The anxiety of these parents can arise because of difficulties in their own childhoods, wanting to keep up with the actions of other parents, worries that the world is not a safe place, or because they are inherently anxious individuals, among other causes.

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Helicopter Parents

Helicopter parents hover over every aspect of their children’s lives to the best of their ability. Such parents want to help guide their children at every step to ensure the best possible outcome for their children. To accomplish this goal, helicopter parents become intimately involved in their children’s daily schedule, encourage them to discuss all decisions with the parents, and ask to be informed regarding all grades and accomplishments. Helicopter parents become involved when their children experience difficulties with their peers, teachers, and even employers.

Helicopter parents can teach their children to become anxious. For example, imagine a two-year-old who falls and scrapes a knee. The helicopter parent rushes over to ensure that the child is not terribly harmed, cleanses the wound carefully to prevent infection, and may lecture the child about being more careful in the future. From this interaction, the child learns that any injury may be grievous, that the parent is needed to help protect them, and that they need to be careful (i.e., anxious) about another dangerous accident that could cause their parent such distress.

Contrast this with a parent who tells a child with a scraped knee to get up and run it off. Such a child learns that recovery from minor accidents is simple.

Children of helicopter parents can become dependent on their parents to nudge them along to complete their tasks. Thus, they do not have the opportunity to become self-starters or learn about the consequences of procrastination. Later in life, when they are on their own, such individuals can develop anxiety and depression because they have not learned how to cope with life challenges without help.

Overly Strict Parents

Overly strict parents can demand perfection from their children. These parents believe that in this way, their children will achieve the best possible outcome. The overly strict parents often withhold praise from their children when the children fall short of the parents' expectations. The parents fear that giving praise for an imperfect performance will cause their children to rest on their laurels.

Strict parents with overly high expectations may schedule their children to participate in many activities outside of school that the parents deem important for the children’s development, such as music lessons, language lessons, sports, art camps, coding instruction, or even manners training. Overly strict parents feel that their judgment supersedes that of their children and thus tend to disregard their children's aspirations.

Children raised by overly strict parents may acquiesce to their parents’ demands in order to maintain peace in the home. However, such children often develop increasing inner resentment that can lead to behavioral difficulties, depression with associated withdrawal from engaging with anyone, or anger. Other children may rebel openly, which can lead to many arguments. Or, they may attempt to deal with their angst through various destructive means, including using drugs and alcohol or engaging in anti-social behavior such as bullying, violence, or criminal activity.

Overly Indulgent Parents

Overly indulgent parents focus on helping their children to be as happy as possible. Therefore, these parents will go out of their way to meet their children’s desires. If their children become upset, overly indulgent parents will console them and help distract them by providing a different activity or material object to make them happy again. Overly indulgent parents may ensure their children’s environment is clear of difficult obstacles. For example, such parents may end up sleeping with their children all night, as this is their children’s preference.

Like helicopter parents, overly indulgent parents also might talk to their children’s teacher at the beginning of the school year to fill them in regarding how their children might be best taught. Overly indulgent parents do not expect their children to carry out chores or find a job when they become older to help pay for their discretionary spending.

Children of overly indulgent parents become easily frustrated and have difficulty facing life challenges since they have had minimal opportunity to learn how to deal with uncomfortable situations. They often seek others to solve their problems and can develop a sense of entitlement. When confronted by “real life” situations, they can become depressed or angry.

Counseling Extreme Parents

Children clearly benefit when their parents are engaged in their lives. However, it is important for parents to recognize that allowing their children to define their own paths and deal with their decisions' positive and negative consequences is an essential part of development. In this way, children are more apt to discover and engage in their own purpose in life, which is likely to lead to increased happiness.

Extreme parents might be encouraged to imagine how difficult it would be for children to learn how to walk when their parents always hold their hands. Such children cannot learn how to balance themselves, prevent themselves from falling, or get up if they fall. Or imagine how difficult it would be to learn to play the piano if parents always moved their children’s fingers on the keyboard. Such piano “students” could sit back and listen to lovely music but would have little idea of how to move their own fingers and thus produce music of their own.

It is hard for parents to see their children struggle, especially when a solution seems obvious. However, when parents solve their children’s problems, an underlying conveyed message is that the child cannot solve the problem, which can lead children to develop poor self-esteem and become overly dependent on their parents.

When children are allowed to overcome struggles on their own, they develop resilience and improved self-confidence. Extreme parenting precludes children from developing these important character traits. However, in limited situations, parents do need to step in to help solve a child’s problem. For example, children who are oblivious to the serious consequences of their actions, such as when they engage in behavior that places their lives at risk, benefit greatly from constructive parental input.


Treatment of children who develop mental health issues because of extreme parenting often involves work to educate parents about the importance of giving their children opportunities to face challenges on their own and to help reduce parental anxiety.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


McGinley, Meredith. 2018. “Can hovering hinder helping? Examining the joint effects of helicopter parenting and attachment on prosocial behaviors and empathy in emerging adults.” J Genet Psychol. 179:102-115.

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