Pushy Parenting And Over-Protective Parenting, It's A Fine Line

Toddler boy swimming under water
Toddler boy swimming under water

The line between being a pushy parent and an over-protective one can be fine. We've all seen the breed of the former: those sharp-elbowed mums and dads who shove little Johnny and Jemima to the front of every queue, no matter whether they're waiting to see the teacher or board a rollercoaster ride. J & J come first; that's the deal. Even if J & J don't want to come first.

Every setback is perceived as a slight; every ambition their entitlement. Shove, shove, push, push. Fight every battle. Brush hands. Job done. What a brilliant parent I am! Good for you!

I find them bewildering. Like a customer complaining in a restaurant, what do they expect to achieve? PEE soup, surely?

But there's also the Over-Protective Parent – the mum or dad who wrap their kid in cotton wool and expose them to no harm (fair enough) or potential for harm (hmm!) or any possibilities of little J & J's feelings being hurt in any way whatsoever – the latter of which surely prevents a child learning some valuable lessons about the harsh realities that could make them stronger in adulthood?

I firmly believe (and hope) I'm not a Pushy Parent.

Ongoing case in point: this week my nine-year-old has been corralled to a group of three kids for special handwriting training.

Perhaps I should have kicked down the head teacher's door with an 'Are-you-calling-my kid-thick-how-dare-you-question-my-parenting' attitude. But instead – to support the efforts of his teacher - he and I have gone back to basics and I have literally taught him how to hold a pencil.

Perhaps this makes me over-protective.

Here's another ongoing example involving my youngest son, aged six.

Every Monday, I take him and his brother to a local pool for a half-hour swimming lesson.

The nine-year-old is a virtual fish, so no worries there, but the youngest was going through that phase kids go through of not wanting water in his ears, let alone his entire head dunked under.

To me, that's all down to confidence, and so I entrusted the fruit of my loins to the expertise of a swimming teacher and let them get on with it.

As the weeks went by, I became increasingly aware of some parents constantly complaining to the instructors. Their kid wasn't developing enough; their kid should be in the Olympics by now. The usual type of thing from the usual type of parent.

But on this one occasion, I looked up from my book and saw my youngest looking anxious. It wasn't like him. He's got a Soldiering On personality, never complaining, just getting on with it.

But his eyes were saying 'Help!'. I shot him a thumbs up and a nod asking if he was OK, and he shot me a thumbs up and a nod back...and then his face crumpled and his nodding head turned to a shake and he started to cry.

Did I step in? Nope. The Anti-Pushy Force dwells deep in this one. I turned my eyes away, not wanting to indulge my son's emotions, forced myself to read my book, hoped it would all be fine and that the next time I looked up, he'd be swimming like a dolphin.

A few moments later, I let my eyes drift towards him, and there he was, soldiering on, semi-floating on his back, with his head supported by his instructor. But he was crying, sobbing his little heart out.

And I snapped and raced around the side of the pool, pushing the Pushies aside to get to my son, before bellowing at the instructor: "IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE FUN. IT'S SUPPOSED TO BUILD HIS CONFIDENCE."

And then I virtually dragged my sobbing lad from the pool and carried him in my arms to the poolside to dry both him and me.

Was that pushy? Was that over-protective?

As I held his trembling body and ssshed him in his ear to calm him down, his swimming instructor appeared at my side.

"He is fine, he is doing well, he is developing as he should," she said.

Calmer by now, I replied: "I'm not interested in ticking development boxes. I just want him to have confidence in the water. That's it. End of. Making him cry isn't the best way to achieve that."

Then I described what had happened to my mum when she was a little girl.

A boy – no doubt referred to as a ruffian in those days – had dive-bombed her in the pool, submerging her for several seconds before she surfaced coughing and spluttering and terrified. She never went in the pool again. She never learned to swim and she developed such a phobia that she couldn't even go for a paddle with her four sons on Blackpool beach.

I didn't care if my son was never going to be a Michael Phelps: I just wanted him to enjoy splashing around in the pool when we go on holiday this summer.

After we left, I weighed up my options and bumped into a couple of the other pool parents.

"You must complain," said one.

"You should insist on getting a different instructor," said another.

"If that had happened to my son I would have made sure the instructor was sacked," said another.

But none of these options is my style. I didn't want to appear a pushover, but after I'd persuaded my lad that it would never happen again, I spoke to the instructor and told her I believed in her, that I trusted her. But what I didn't do was threaten that I would withdraw my son if he got upset again.

Was that not pushy enough? Was not over-protective parenting?

At the next session, I had to virtually tear my son's arms from me to lower him into the pool.

And then – as I did when he went ballistic on his first day in Reception class – I left the area altogether.

I knew that if he knew I was there to appeal to, I would crumple and rescue him.

So I went for a walk around the block and came back 20 minutes later – to find a six-year-old boy not only enjoying himself, but also swimming half a breadth of the pool. Underwater.