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An Alternative to “Snowplow Parenting”

Recently, an article in The New York Times, discussed “snowplow parenting” or for those of us in the South, “lawn-mower parenting.” As the terms suggest, these parents go in front of their kids and do things to “help them,” such as put on their shoes, carry their belongings, and bring them work if it is left at home.

Though well intended, when we continually do for our children, we are not allowing them the chance to grow up. I’d like to encourage you to think of parenting as providing opportunities for your child to learn how to live, instead of as doing things for your child. In Dr. Montessori’s words, “Never do for a child that which he thinks he can do for himself.” When you cultivate an atmosphere of exploration and provide challenging experiences for your children, there is a significant impact on your children’s future attitude towards learning and life. 

Through the years, I have heard two dominating reasons from parents for continuing to do things for their children: 1) it is faster and 2) the children can’t do it properly. Thus, parents say, they would rather just do it themselves. If you have found yourself saying something similar, you might want to consider how much snowplow parenting you are doing.  

  1. Yes, it is absolutely true that it takes longer to allow your toddler to put on his shoes. And yes, they may get frustrated. Yet, those little times add up to a way of life. Children who learn to overcome their own challenges experience a joy and self-satisfaction that others don’t have. 
  2. It is true that three-year-olds are not going to load the dishwasher as well as you do. Yet, encourage their enthusiasm and natural curiosity, and you will find children live much healthier lives when they get to ‘play in the snow.’

Here are some ways to support your children plowing through the snow so they can lead productive, purposeful lives.

1. Help your children learn personal responsibilityFortunately, my girls were in Montessori schools. Therefore, they experienced control over the direction of their learning and how to be responsible. For example, at The Hillsboro School our toddlers begin learning what it means to respect 1. Themselves 2. Their classmates 3. Their environment.They also learn to complete the three-part work cycle: 1. Choose a job off the shelf. 2. Complete the job. 3. Return the job to its place on the shelf. You can talk with your child about respect and offer your child such consistent expectations at home, allowing him to develop these healthy habits. With consistency, it becomes second nature to understand everything has a place, so you put it back there after you use it. Simple. 

Young children delight in doing activities “by myself”! When parents clean a child’s room without the child being a part of the process, the child is not learning how to take care of herself. Instead, give your children opportunities to learn how to sort, fold, or organize. If you have missed the young, exciting sensitive period of your child wanting to help you clean, never fear; it is never too late. If your teenager’s room is a mess, instead of snowplowing everything for him so that he returns to a tidy room, ask him, “What can I do to help you make your room work?” 


2. Create opportunities where they can make mistakes As you help your child learn responsibility, know they are going to make mistakes. The way you talk about your mistakes and how you respond to your child’s attempts will tell your child if you actually believe learning is all about learning from mistakes or if you just think this is a cliche. When your toddler drops her cup and spills the water, use this as a learning opportunity. At The Hillsboro School we tell our parents, “It is not IF they spill something, but WHEN they spill something, here is how we clean it up.” Give your children opportunities to learn how to learn, which most definitely includes how to handle the mistakes that will be made along the way. This is the critical step snowplowing parents do not understand. As your child makes mistakes and learns how to respond in healthy ways, she becomes more comfortable thinking outside of the box. 

3. Have conversations with your children that develop empathy and emotional maturity As your child expresses his feelings and frustrations, don’t offer your suggestions. Instead, give your child the chance to generate options. Help him think through his challenge with questions such as “What do you want to do about this?” or “Why do you think your friend said/did that?” These questions help your child develop emotional maturity as he begins to understand how to navigate the complexity of life. 

Next time you feel the urge to be a snowplow parent, think of what you give your child by creating a culture in your home of responsibility, problem solving, and compassion. Choose to support your children ‘wading through the snow’ because such a mindset will stay with them throughout their lives as they seek to contribute responsibly to the world. 

Enjoy the journey!