If you’re a Type A, driven, perfectionist, high-achieving, or obsessive-compulsive parent, you’re probably just as committed to great parenting as you are to achieving in other areas.
What is Type A parenting like? Type A parenting, at the far end of a continuum, is characterized by urgency, assertiveness, and competitiveness.
At the other end of the continuum there are possible advantages:
- You give your child the best opportunities you can.
- You make sure things get done when they should and that your child’s material and educational needs are always met.
- And there’s no doubt that you do your best to set a good example for hard work, achieving goals, following rules, and meeting high standards.
But there are side effects of Type A parenting that may not be obvious.
Type A Parents May Send Messages They Don’t Intend.
As a therapist I’ve met parents who are surprised about how their children view them. And as a somewhat Type A parent myself, I’ve had to humbly acknowledge that my efforts at parenting didn’t always convey what I had hoped they would.
We don’t always come across as we would hope. Nor is the impact always what we would hope.
The good news is that recognizing and acknowledging how your personality affects your parenting is half the battle. As a Type A parent, you can then use your natural determination to shift what you convey so that your child gets a better message.
Parenting is not a popularity contest. It’s inevitable that your children will dislike and misunderstand things you do.
And standards are still essential.
But it is possible to diminish the negative, unintended consequences of Type A parenting while still bringing your love and your values to how you raise your children.
Research: Intentions Versus Experience and Impact
Studies about parenting in general can help us see how we may come across and the effects that has on our children’s development. Here are five unintended consequences of characteristics associated with Type A parenting:
1. The Hard Work Example
You might feel that you’re providing materially for your kids and providing a good example of the value of hard work at the same time. But the danger is that if you’re working too much, when they compare themselves to you, their self-esteem goes down and their anxiety goes up.
One study indicates that the children of parents who are workaholic tend to be less self-accepting, overwork themselves, and have more physical complaints. Even if you don’t express high standards for them, they may experience your high standards for yourself as a standard they’re supposed to meet.
2. Interested Parenting and Intrusive Parenting
You might feel that by taking a deep interest in their welfare you’re communicating how much you love them and increasing their chances for a bright future. But if you get too deeply involved, they may experience you as intrusive.
Early childhood research indicates that intrusive parenting may have a negative effect on the child’s resilience, and diminish their ability to regulate attention and behavior. Research on middle childhood suggests that intrusive parenting may increase the chances that your child becomes depressed, anxious, or overly self-critical. 
3. Academic Encouragement and Academic Pressure
Think that your academic “encouragement” will help them get ahead? Think again. They may experience this as controlling, and adolescents who experience their parents as controlling actually have lower levels of academic achievement, decreased sense of autonomy, and–get this–a decreased chance of being in a romantic relationship.
Research indicates that a demanding, power-assertive parenting approach is less effective than it was originally claimed to be. Emotionally unsupportive, tough, and shaming parenting are actually less successful in promoting good academic performance than a more emotionally supportive style. While some children raised with this approach may succeed academically, their mental health is often compromised in the long run.
4. Protective or Overprotective?
If you’re protective you may intend to communicate how much you care and the importance of being careful. But if you go too far and become overprotective you may actually communicate that the world is a dangerous place and that your child isn’t capable of navigating it.
5. Creativity and the Confident Example
And if you have hopes of encouraging your child’s creativity through your own confidence and certainty, be sure not to come across as authoritarian. That discourages creativity. Your example may communicate to them that there are certain ways of doing things that are “correct,” when creativity actually needs an example of openness and flexibility. Too much confidence might be intimidating to a child who is just finding their way.
Help Needed: More Connection Than Accomplishment
If you are Type A, high achieving, or obsessive-compulsive you may communicate that you value accomplishment more than relationships.
Parents who didn’t attain secure attachment (bonding) with their own parents might find it hard to form secure attachments with others. Because work, accomplishment and finances seem more reliable than people, achievement may become more important.
While early academic or athletic successes might appear at first to boost self-esteem in children, an emphasis on relationships and secure attachment is a better long-term investment. Your pride in their early achievement may leave your child feeling that relationships and happiness are dependent on success, and that love is conditional.
Achieving secure attachment requires unconditional acceptance, and recognition and validation of their feelings. The danger for most Type A parents is skipping over these steps in their urgency to get somewhere. This won’t convey what you really want to convey.
Pumping them up too much—telling them how great they are based on an achievement model—can actually leave them feeling insecure, wondering if they’re really as good as you say they are.
Dangers of Pre-Mature and Perfectionistic Expectations
Most parents with this personality style have high expectations for their children. In order to encourage their success, they often value early achievement. And since our brains don’t fully develop until sometime around the age of 26, you could make an argument that in order to succeed children need to be directed more until then.
But even though kids do need guidance and guard rails, they don’t need a sense of urgency. Even if you think you’re soft-peddling your expectations, they may experience those expectations as harsher than they are intended.
It’s more helpful to remember that they just haven’t developed cognitively enough to be able to behave as maturely as you’d like. Yes, some kids do develop quickly and naturally, but these tend to be outliers. Those who are pushed into it may suffer mental health consequences later in life.
Whether it’s how soon they’re potty trained, sleep through the night, clean up after themselves, or speed-read War and Peace in Russian, if you have Type A parenting style you may need to lower or delay expectations.
4 Suggestions for a Better Message
Showing your child your intentions is more effective than telling them. Here are four ways to do that:
1. Listen First; Talk Later
Showing starts with listening.
Receptivity shows more respect for your children, and communicates more confidence in them. It also bears more fruit than lectures.
Think of your job as a parent as less about putting information into them, and more about drawing out their true self. Give them opportunities to express themselves and to think out loud about who they are. Even if they’re misbehaving, lead with curiosity. When they feel heard, they are more likely to hear what you have to offer them.
2. Accept Yourself as a Good Enough Parent
One way to model respect and real care is treating yourself with respect and acceptance.
And a little less seriousness.
As parents we will never get it perfect. Thank goodness. If we did our kids would not develop the resilience they need.
Parents who make high demands on themselves are often critical of themselves, and may pass these expectations on to their children. Observing your efforts, children may end up feeling that they aren’t good enough, or aren’t trying hard enough. Acknowledging your mistakes and tendencies with good humor demonstrates an accepting attitude that will also serve them well.
3. Less Performance and More Play
If your own lifestyle is serious and high-achieving, you may need to make special efforts for down-time and play-time with your child. Play is their way of learning. It’s also their way of developing authenticity and creativity. Learning to let loose may be just as important as learning discipline for the child of a very serious parent.
Perhaps most importantly, playing with a child may be the best way to let them know that they are loved.
I’ll never forget a Father’s Day card from one of my daughters saying that what she really loved was when I cracked jokes and played with her. I don’t think I was really that good at either one, but she was able to intuit that if she rewarded the good behavior I did do, it would happen more often.
While it may seem contrary to the project, you may need to put “Play” on your to-do list or personal schedule. This usually makes it more likely for Type A parents to actually make the time to engage in play.
4. Mourn the Loss of Control and Savor the Challenge of Nurturing Who They Are
Some parents who are driven believe that with effort they can shape their child into their ideal of a wonderful human. The child often has different ideas as to what “wonderful” is.
If shaping a child in a particular way was a dream of yours, you may need to grieve that that won’t be possible. Instead, accept and focus on what is possible—discovering and cultivating your child’s authentic self.
As parents we often want to hand down to our children our values. But your children may not be wired as you are: they may value relationships, leisure, or peace of mind more than achievement, mastery, and success.
Gently nurturing who they are authentically is a goal we can put our Type A energy into. The results will not be immediately apparent, but few challenges are as rewarding or important.
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