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"Lawnmower Parenting" and its effect on your child's Motor Planning

Mother and Child

What kind of parent do you consider yourself to be? Are you more laissez-faire, allowing your child free reign to explore his world? Are you more authoritarian, expecting rules to be followed without question? Perhaps you fall somewhere, in between or perhaps you are a “Lawnmower Parent”.

What is a ‘Lawnmower Parent”?

This parent hovers close to their child, aiming to be on standby should anything ever go wrong. They actively try to smooth the path forward for their little one so that they experience as little upset, unhappiness or challenge as possible. This new form of over dedicated parenting seems admirable on the surface, but unfortunately, there are some pitfalls.

Having an involved, purposeful parent has many benefits for bonding and relationships. In today’s rushed and over-scheduled lifestyles, it is comforting to see parents staying involved in their children’s lives.

In the short term, a lawnmower parenting style may seem easier for the child and fulfilling for the parent. In the long run, however, fostering dependence may adversely impact the child’s ability to come up with ideas, plan and implement solutions to problems. This significant developmental milestone is called “motor planning” or “praxis”.

Motor Planning explained

Motor planning is the ability to come up with an idea, think of a plan and then execute the plan smoothly and efficiently. This “subconscious sense” allows our body to listen to and execute what our brain decides.

Motor planning is the bridge between a child’s intellect and his muscles. It requires attention; attention allows the brain to plan the kind of messages to send to the muscles and the sequence in which to send them.

“Praxis is the sense which allows us to interact with our physical world in the way that speech allows us to interact with the human world.” (Ayers, 1985).

This subconscious process happens naturally and allows a child to learn new tasks easily.

  • A baby motor plans how to use his hands to grab at his mother’s hair or get his foot into his mouth.
  • A child motor plans how to put on clothes, write letters or tie shoelaces.
  • Adults motor plan when learning to drive or practising a new dance step. It depends on the complex integration of all the senses. The brain tells the muscles what to do, but the senses enable the brain to do the telling.

The effect of poor motor planning

Children with poor motor planning work more slowly and inefficiently. What appears to come easily to peers, requires more effort for this child; however, this increased effort is not always evident in the end product.

Children with motor planning difficulties often have strong verbal skills and also develop many other coping strategies. They tend to use the thinking and reasoning areas of their brains to compensate for deficits in more automatic motor performance.

Always having to compensate means that children who struggle with motor planning have to use more energy, putting them at risk for fatigue and frustration.

Because children who struggle with motor planning use inefficient ways of doing things, work pace is compromised, making task completion difficult.

Motor planning difficulties impact adversely on frustration tolerance and affects social and emotional development. Children who need to expend cognitive energy on motor planning (which should happen subconsciously) often struggle to adjust to change.

Small changes in routine are experienced as BIG adjustments for these children. Often this results in controlling behaviour aimed at forcing a degree of predictability as any change presents a possibility for frustration and failure.

Support your child’s motor planning development

There are many ways to encourage your little one to develop his motor planning skills. Praxis means “to do”…so step back and allow your child to do as much independently as he can. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Use verbal cues instead of doing tasks for your child. If your little one gets stuck, try using words to assist him before jumping in.
  • Allow sufficient time and opportunity for your little one to figure problems out. Parents often jump in too quickly. Remember children process slightly slower than adults do, so they need extra thinking time.
  • Allow your little one to make mistakes, even if you can see them happening. There is essential sensory feedback that your child receives when he is unsuccessful. This aims to inform future attempts.
  • Praise his effort. Encourage him as he attempts new tasks, don’t just focus on the success of the end product.
  • Break tasks up into manageable chunks. Break down complex tasks into more simple steps. Remember to adjust this as he gets older so that you allow him to do some of this himself. You could ask him to talk through the steps with you before attempting new complex tasks. • Prompt how to get started. It can be tricky to know how to initiate a task, and all a child needs is a prompt of where to start.

Fostering independence is a balance in scaffolding your help that requires continual adjustment as you assist a little more or less, according to what’s needed.

You want your child to learn through his challenges but not give up because he gets too frustrated…so stand back and keep watching as your little one becomes a motor planning pro!

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