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What's a Snowplow Parent? 5 Warning Signs You Might Be One

by Vannessa Rhoades 24 Apr 2023
What's a Snowplow Parent? 5 Warning Signs You Might Be One


Your children are the loves of your life. You would do literally anything to shield them from harm – it’s what you do for the ones you love, right? Some parents go even further, though, by trying to protect their kids from any type of defeat, hardship, or disappointment – any at all. Perhaps you’ve even been accused of this yourself. If you have, you might be engaging in a technique often referred to as snowplow parenting. Also known as lawnmower parenting or bulldozer parenting, it’s a parenting style that attempts to eliminate all barriers from a child's path so that they don't experience pain, discomfort, frustration, or failure.

While the intentions behind lawnmower or snowplow parenting are good, shielding your kids from every single challenge they encounter can actually have negative long-term consequences. Let’s take a closer look at snowplow parenting examples, what you need to know, and how to avoid some of the pitfalls of this approach.

What’s the Difference Between Snowplow Parenting vs. Helicopter Parenting?

A snowplow parent or lawnmower parent has a powerful urge to shield their child from any kind of challenge or difficulty. Consequently, they tend to “plow,” “mow down,” or “bulldoze” any obstacles their kid encounters, as well as prevent any issue from cropping up to start with. This parenting style shares some commonalities with another well-known approach: helicopter parenting.

Helicopter parents tend to hover (like a helicopter), keeping a watchful eye on all of their child’s activities. Snowplow parents do this also, in addition to removing any potential challenges. For instance, a helicopter parent might frequently review and inspect their kid’s school assignments or nag them to turn in homework. A snowplow parent, on the other hand, might finish the homework or school project on their child’s behalf. 

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Signs You May Be a Snowplow Parent

Though their heart is in the right place, this type of parenting often doesn’t do the child any favors in the long run. Let’s take a look at a few traits that may indicate you have snowplow parent tendencies.

1. You do your kid’s school assignments.

Active, engaged parents help their kids with homework. This is a great, loving thing to do. The trouble with a snowplow or lawnmower parent, however, is that they may (intentionally or unintentionally) do the assignment for their child. Parents worry that the workload is causing too much stress for the child, so they try to help…and end up taking over. This often starts in elementary school with simple projects and homework and results in a pattern of behavior that carries over into junior high and high school. Eventually, these children head to college or real-world jobs having had little practice managing their own timelines and projects, making the transition even tougher.

Being an involved parent is a positive thing. Doing your child’s school work for them, however, may not be the best solution. If you’re concerned your child’s homework or school project might be too overwhelming for them, schedule a conversation with their teacher or talk to fellow parents about their observations.

2. You don’t give your kid a chance to deal with conflict.

Confrontations and disagreements are a normal part of life, especially between siblings, cousins, and kids at the playground. That said, it can be extremely upsetting as a parent to see your little one try to manage any type of conflict. In an effort to protect their child, a snowplow parent may cancel play dates or request teacher intervention in even minor disagreements. This method of parenting can have serious drawbacks in certain situations because it prevents your child from developing resilience and mental fortitude. It also prevents your child from developing their own ability to solve problems and overcome challenges.

3. You pick up the slack when your child forgets something.

Learning to be a responsible human means remembering to bring the necessary supplies and assignments to school. Snowplow parents will completely upend their day to head to school and drop off a forgotten project, permission slip, or library book. Unfortunately, this fails to teach children accountability. Instead, it could teach them that you’re always available to bail them out. Of course, there are reasonable exceptions. If your kid forgets their homework once or twice, it’s absolutely okay to take it to their school. On the other hand, a child who routinely forgets their assignments or leaves them at home might be more motivated to remember in the future if they receive a low grade or reprimand from the teacher.

4. You meet with teachers all the time.

A strong, enduring relationship with your kid’s teachers and counselors is a good thing, particularly if your child has a special situation that necessitates it (like an individualized education plan, or IEP). That said, if you’re ready to go to battle with the school every time your child has a complaint or gets a low grade, you may be a snowplow parent.

5. You constantly give in to your kid.

You love your child more than life itself, and you can’t stand the thought of them feeling slighted or left out. As a result, snowplow parents frequently cave and get their children whatever “latest and greatest” item they want. Consequently, this may lead their children to grow up feeling rather entitled or believing that they always have to have the same things as others in order to be happy.

Is Snowplow Parenting Bad or Good?

Snowplow parents have their hearts in the right place. Like all parents, they want their children to feel happy and to succeed in life. The trouble is that while “plowing” through challenges may seem like a great way to give your child a leg up, it may ultimately lead to some negative long-term consequences. Dealing with failure, confrontation, conflict, and other obstacles teaches kids how to handle frustration and disappointment. It helps them become mentally stronger and develop more effective coping mechanisms for the challenges they’ll face later in life.

When parents mow down every barrier in a child’s path, some kids actually end up feeling more intense stress when they are faced with a situation they can’t control. For example, one nationwide survey of American students progressing from high school to college showed more than half wished their parents had emotionally prepared them for the rigors of college. 

The Bottom Line

If you think it’s possible you’re a snowplow parent, there are ways to modify your parenting style. Wanting to set your child up for success is completely reasonable. Understand, though, that it is possible to be a loving, involved parent without bulldozing through every obstacle your child may encounter. Indeed, it may help to know that allowing your little one to overcome some challenges on their own actually better prepares them for how to handle adversity in the future.

Remember that extreme parenting methods can actually heighten your child’s anxiety and damage their self-esteem. Plus, it doesn’t ready them for the fast-pace of college or a demanding career. Give them space to manage challenges on their own. Have faith that they can be accountable for their own schoolwork. Resist the impulse to jump in and save the day (though it’s still okay to offer helpful suggestions and tips along the way). Perhaps even more importantly, allow your kid to experience setbacks and deal with the consequences. Challenges and failures are truly opportunities for your child to grow, learn, and develop resilience. 

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