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An Open Letter to Parents: Micromanaging Impairs your Child's Executive Function Development

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

Dear Parents,

Your subconscious mind is programmed to control 95% of all your thoughts, emotions, and actions. This "autopilot" mode explains why you have a certain way you do things - the way you gesture with your hands, the way you laugh, chew your food, and the way you parent. While there's nothing inherently wrong with that, if you are not mindful of your patterns and how they affect your child's development, then you may be repeating some painful habits that are keeping both of you stuck in a seriously dysfunctional routine.

Five Signs you're a Micromanager

Micromanagement is a habit rooted in fear, distrust, and doomed to stunt your child's executive functioning. Here are five clear signs that you are a micromanager, and what to do instead so that you can help your child practice the skills they need for independence.

1. You're a martyr: you complain of having to do everything yourself, but that also includes stuff your child can do for themselves. You don't step back and give your child a chance to succeed (or fail) on their own.

Here are some excuses Martyrs use to stay stuck in their habits:

  • It'll save me time if I do it myself.

  • There's too much at stake to allow this to go wrong.

  • When I'm not involved, they'll mess up.

  • It's my job to make sure it goes right.

In the rare event that you do ask for something to be done, you plan on "fixing it" afterward, or "finishing it" so that it lives up to your standards. Either way, your child consistently feels like they've let you down.

The message you're sending them is: "I don't trust you."

2. You nag: your child is lazy and disrespectful, and you have to stay on top of them constantly just so they get stuff done.

You don't trust your child to do what they say they will because last time they said they would, they half-assed it or skipped it altogether. So this time, you're prepared. You check in every five minutes, you stand over them to give direction and feedback at every step.

The message you're sending them is: "You're not doing enough."

3. You lecture: you need to teach your child a lesson or they will never learn.

You're not a perfectionist. You just want to help your child do it the right way (aka the way you do it). So you offer lots of constructive criticism and lecture them about something that "should be easy" or they should "know how to do by now."

The message you're sending them is: "You're not good enough."

4. You use coercion: the art of persuasion through threat or force.

Instead of focusing on your child, you focus on the task that you need them to complete. Rather than inspiring them and building mutual trust, you threaten to take away their favorite things, or arbitrarily enforce consequences to get them to comply.

The message you're sending them is: "You can't trust me."

5. You can't let it go: you work hard to convince your child that your way is the right way.

You've been there, done that and you've got decades of experience on your child. Why won't they just listen to you and do it exactly like you told them to do it? If only you can prove that your way is the best way; if only they just tried it once, they'd totally understand that you know best and they should have listened to you all along.

The message you're sending them is: "You can't think for yourself."

The Short Term Gains aren't Worth It

In the short run, micromanaging may feel productive and get you the immediate outcome that you're looking for. But let's look at the long-term, corrosive effects of micromanagement on your relationship and your child's ability to function independently.

  • Helplessness: your child doesn't believe they can function without you/someone even for the simplest of tasks.

  • Lack of confidence and low self esteem.

  • Lack of growth: your child is stuck in their comfort zone and rarely challenged to try new things and learn from their mistakes.

  • Chronic Stress: your constant oversight and negative messages are a huge stressor for your child. Kids internalize the messages they receive and start believing there is something wrong with them.

  • Lack of trust in you/your intentions. Inability to ask for help.

  • Arguing, tantrums, power struggles, and lack of respect.

  • Fear of failure, and fear of making you angry, hostile, or disappointed.

  • Annoyance, anger, and withdrawal - your child will do anything to avoid you and their responsibilities.

Excuses that Keep Parents Stuck

If any of the above ring true, then you know it's time to completely overhaul your approach, but actually doing so seems overwhelming and scary.

Because change is uncomfortable and takes a lot of hard work, it's easier to stay stuck and instead point to a long list of excuses of why you are the way you are. It's important to address those excuses here and call them out for being total BS (sorry, not sorry).

  • But what if he/she fails?

  • This is how I've been my whole life.

  • I can't change/my child can't change.

  • I'm too impatient.

  • My child is different/they can't do it on their own.

  • This is the way my parents raised me.

  • We've got more important issues, have you seen his/her grades?

  • What do you mean, things are just fine the way they are.

  • I just need to push my child harder.

  • I'm hoping things will get better on their own.

  • If only _______ would happen, everything would be better.

  • If only my spouse would _________ things would be better.

  • If only my child listened, we wouldn't have these issues.

Sorry, not buying it. I have higher expectations for you. Your child's long-term spiritual, intellectual, and emotional development depends on it. This stuff matters.

Focus on the Right Outcomes

Change is not easy, but it is worth it. Focusing on the right outcomes is important for you to set your intentions on the right goals, and measure success accurately. Here are a few ways you can shift your thinking and start moving in the right direction.

1. Focus on yourself: Micromanaging your child is a way to manage your own anxiety. To stop this pattern, you will need to feel the strong emotional impulses that keep you stuck repeating it. Can you pause and notice the emotions that lead to that impulse? Can you observe them without judgment or distraction? What is the belief behind the emotion? Is your belief true? This is the most important step, without self-awareness, you will be blind to the causes of dysfunction and continue to react to the symptoms.

2. Emotional regulation: Do you take responsibility for your emotions? How high is your tolerance for frustration? How well can you keep your cool and stay calm in heated situations? Having some self-soothing tools to cope with big feelings is key to staying regulated in the midst of chaos. Modeling this important skill to your child is they key to teaching them how to do it.

3. Relationship: Your most important goal is creating a high-quality relationship in which your child feels safe, heard, and understood. Can you attune to what your child is feeling, listen to understand their perspective, and treat them with the same respect you expect from them (even when they're acting disrespectfully)?

4. Communication: When there's an issue, can you and your child have honest and open dialogue even when the conversation is uncomfortable? Can you hear their concerns and validate their emotions before sharing your concerns? It's important to have frequent check-ins and make sure your child feels safe to share their authentic self without fear of being punished or judged for their feelings or beliefs. You can help your child raise their awareness and think more flexibly by sharing your observations and helping them think out loud to solve problems.

5. Progress not perfection: Don't expect your child to get it right, right away. Not on the first, second, or even fifth try. Instead, be consistent in challenging them to take baby steps away from their comfort zone. Celebrate the victories and reflect on the challenges without blame or judgment. Let them know when you're proud of their effort, and that you trust them to handle the consequences. Give honest feedback and positive encouragement to guide them toward higher and higher levels of ability.

6. Accountability: Communicate reasonable expectations and limits to help your child think through to the future consequences of their decisions. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you don't follow through on your words, your child will not trust you. If your child does not trust you, they will not follow your lead. Why should they?

7. Play, have fun: Play does two critical things for our executive functioning. It creates a safe space where we can be free to express ourselves and test new ideas without fear of failure. It also allows us to tap into our creativity and wonder; to feel energized, alive, and joyful. What's the point of growing up and acting like an adult if adults are so boring and unimaginative? If you can't bring out the child in the adult, you won't bring out the adult in the child.

Reprogramming your Autopilot

Just because we run on autopilot does not mean that we can't manually override our programming. That takes self-awareness, dedication to a vision, and lots of practice over time. It's not easy work; but honestly it's way more fun, simple, and creative than micromanaging. It also works to develop your child's executive functioning while deepening the bond between you.

Change is both painful and messy. It is also totally worth it.

You will feel your child's resistance and your own resistance. You will need to practice being comfortable with very uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. You will need to be consistent, mindful, and let go of the need to prove, punish, and control. Once you let go, you can be more creative, more fun, and enjoy a higher quality relationship.

Only then can you stop being a micromanager and become your child's greatest leader - someone who they look up to and respect. Someone they come to for compassionate guidance and support. Someone with whom they can have fun and express themselves freely. Someone who makes them feel safe, confident, and powerful.

All my best,



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