I am looking for a proverb / expression in American English where someone is overly kind to someone else tending to help them make an easier situation for them in the manner that they feel better, but in fact, what they are doing is not what they are expecting. They are acting like an ill-nature person e.g. enemy, who does not like you learn / grow etc.

Example 1

A kind aunt does her brother child's homework thinking that it would make the child feel better because as a result they would have less tasks and subsequently they can rest, but actually, what the aunt is doing is avoiding the child from growing and learning more.

Example 2

A mother who constantly gives her child chocolates and cake and other goodies, even though she's been told her child should be on a diet; otherwise she would hurt her child.

P.S. I am sure that "killing with kindness" does not work in AmE.

  • 2
    My first thought is spoil, but I'm not sure if it's what you had in mind. Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 12:24
  • 7
    "Killing with kindness" is fine in AmE.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 12:25
  • 2
    Also, you mean to say preventing the child or hindering the child, not avoiding the child.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 12:27
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    @HarrisWeinstein That is one interpretation... but it can also mean just what the OP wants.
    – Catija
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 21:10
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    The phrase can mean to overcome an enemy or opponent by using tactics which seem benevolent; but it can also mean to harm someone by excessive pampering. books.google.com/…
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 12:59

4 Answers 4


The aunt from your example 1 could be smothering the child if she is being overprotective. This is usually used for parent-child relationships. It applies when the parent is so restrictive of the child's actions that the child is powerless to do anything without the parent interfering. The parent is not acting out of malice though, but real benevolence for their child. The parent feels they are doing the right thing by constantly ensuring the child's safety, but in reality they are crippling the child's growth.

Examples of what a smothering parent might say:

  • "No, you can't play outside because you might catch a cold".
  • "I'll do your chores for you since you might get tired".
  • "Text me every hour so that I'm sure you're alright."

Smother more generally means to extinguish (a fire) or to stifle. Fire in English, as in many other languages, is a symbol for action and emotion. Many fire words have a dual meaning for people, such as "firebrand", "to stoke", or "to burn out". One can imagine the child's freedom and growth being a flame that is put out by a wet blanket of a parent.


One of the says is

Spare the rod, spoil the child.

It means if you do not discipline your child, they will have a difficult time in life since they may become socially unruly.

A parent who excessively spoils their child is called

a doting parent

The technical term for someone who helps a "bad" person continue with their bad habits is

an enabler

  • Sorry, but spare the rod, spoil the child means you discipline the child? I think not.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 14:29
  • @Lambie How do yo interpret the saying? This is what I know of it here
    – Peter
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 16:08
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    I interpret "spare the rod and spoil the child" the same way as Peter, but I don't really see the relevance to the OP's question - "spare the rod" is about the usefulness of punishment.
    – stangdon
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 16:17
  • Yes, right. I expressed myself badly. I don't think it relates to the question.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 16:20
  • The implication is if one is being lenient with the child (spare the rod), then it is to the detriment of the child (spoil the child) which is along the lines of the OP's question: doing something which on the outside seems "good" but the results are "bad". I suppose one can argue the merits of "being lenient", but most parents, at least first time parents, often have problems disciplining their child. Tears are a very powerful weapon.
    – Peter
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 16:26

The term "babying" comes to mind as well, although it also has the connotation of doing something for someone because the doer thinks that person is not capable of doing it or is to young to do it.


Auntie, stop babying me. I am old enough to do my own homework

It fits pretty well with your first example, but is a bit of a stretch for the second.


For a proverb (I think it is also present in AmE), I would think of "giving a man a fish". The whole proverb goes like this:

Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you feed him for a lifetime.

Basically it means it is better to teach someone how to do something than give them easy answers. This would work well with the first example, but not quite the second.

Besides that, I would say "to spoil (a child)" works. A spoilt child/spoilt brat ("spoiled" AmE) is a child (or person) who has been given much of what they want during childhood, and does not know how to properly handle loss or disappointment later in life.


Other phrases similar to "to spoil" to be considered:

  • to hand/give [something] on a silver platter / to feed with a silver spoon

    "The boy was handed everything he wanted on a silver platter"

This phrase refers to how a butler or maid might serve their master. It means to serve someone whatever they want without them having to do much for it.

https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/on-a-silver-platter https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/on+a+silver+platter

(I was also gonna say "[to do something for someone] hand and foot", but I guess that's British, but here is the link to the definition. Perhaps someone can tell me if it's used in America)


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