(HT Illustration: Jayachandran)
(HT Illustration: Jayachandran)

How not to be a lawnmower parent

Jumping in to smooth every path for your child won’t make the journey easier. It hurts learning, confidence and problem-solving ability.
By Madhusree Ghosh | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON NOV 29, 2020 03:02 PM IST

First came the tigers, then the helicopters. Now it’s the lawnmowers. If the tiger parents pushed and the helicopters hovered, the lawnmowers — whose tribe has grown in the pandemic — are so afraid of their offspring being left behind that they are pre-emptively leaping forward to clear real and imagined hurdles in the child’s path.

With education having moved online, they’re the ones interrupting to tell the teacher, “Don’t move on, I don’t think he’s got this yet” (he often has); or interrupting another child’s question to say, “My daughter has a few follow-ups” (she doesn’t).

Also known as bulldozer or snowplough parenting, this comes — like most forms of extreme parenting — from a place of concern, fear, love or all of the above. But it doesn’t help that parents are now in the classroom all the time, and that many are more anxious than they were before.

“In the beginning the children were not used to the virtual format, so of course they required guidance from the parents,” says Swati Popat Vats, education activist and president of the Mumbai-based non-profit Early Childhood Association. “But that should ideally take the form of scaffolding. You have to scaffold your help for children, keep it to only the minimal framework that is required, and then remove the support when it’s no longer required. Like the training wheels on a bicycle. You never want the training wheels to become permanent.”

The crucial bit, say teachers, is for the parents to give it time once the scaffolding or training wheels are taken away. “Parents see their child falter and can naturally become anxious. But they are only viewing what has always occurred in classrooms since the format of the school was invented. Children learn by trial and error. When a lawnmower parent takes charge of a project, a puzzle or a session, they’re disrupting it and creating self-doubt in the mind of the child,” says Vats.

Instead, wait for the child to ask for help. If you step in prematurely, the child will not become aware of their needs, or their capabilities.

One of the key purposes of the school and classroom is to promote autonomy. This vital area of emotional development stands to also be hampered or impeded every time a parent steps in unasked.

“Lawnmower parenting damages the confidence and self-esteem of the child. If parents are going to remove all the hurdles from the child’s path, the child will additionally become used to not facing them and when the parents are no longer there to help, may not be able to work out solutions for themselves,” Vats says.

Lawnmower parenting makes class more difficult for the teacher too, and draws the teacher’s focus away from the children and towards the adults. “This harms the process of teaching,” says Vats.

Some institutes are starting to frame rules to circumvent the lawnmower parenting and set new boundaries for a new format. “At our school, no parents are allowed to interfere when the class is on. If the child is in one of our lower classes, a parent is allowed to sit with them but not speak,” says Kavita Sanghvi, Principal at Chatrabhuj Narsee Memorial School, Mumbai. “If the child is facing a difficulty or a request of any kind needs to be made, the protocol is that the parent must send a text message within the app to the teacher. But there is absolutely no interference without prior discussion while a class is on.”

Strict follow-up action helps. “We have the video feature on for every test or exam. Two teachers observe. And the written exam is followed by one-on-one viva. We once found a parent prompting their child during an online exam, spoke to the parent and let them know that we could not mark the child on the test at all. From then on, parents have been extremely cautious.”

Anxiety is understandable, Vats says. Many parents may not even realise that what they are doing is not ideal or can be harmful to their own and the other children. “So guidelines are helpful because parental training is essential too.”

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