As parents and grandparents, we all want our children to be safe. We worry about them and don’t want them to get hurt, deal with hurtful experiences, or even have to deal with stress and strain. But, if we are not careful, our quest to keep our children safe and stress free, overprotecting parenting will actually do more harm to them, than good.
How? Because being overprotective robs our children of the opportunity to develop all the skills they need to be a strong and successful adult. It has a negative effect on their self esteem, sends the message to children that they are unable to handle things themselves, and teaches them to doubt their own decisions because we are always telling them what to do and they are never given a chance to choose.
Being overprotective teaches our children to be fearful, creates children who turn into adults who are incapable of making decisions, standing on their own two feet, or handling rejection. The grow up without learning to evaluate, handle, and navigate life.
The risks we expose them to, because we have been overprotective are actually greater than what we are protecting them from. We leave them vulnerable, unable to handle the bigger challenges that life will throw at them.
So, how do we know if we are being overprotective?
When we start taking over things that our children should be managing on their own, We are being overprotective. Try to rarely or never do anything for your child that they can do for themselves.
If they can put on their own shoes, let them. If they can feed themselves, allow them. BUT… in every situation, teach them first. Teach them to use the fork and spoon beforehand, opposed to having them use their hands and throw food on the floor. This will require us to be patient and put their best interest before our own.
How can we avoid being overprotective?
First, Keep the end goal in mind.
As parents, our goal is to raise the next generation of responsible, capable, useful, happy people. It is our job to prepare them to function without us. We are to love them and protect them. To help them gain wisdom as they grow. And although we don’t ever want them to feel pain, disappointment, or frustration, they are going to. We have to accept that, and instead of trying to keep them from ever experiencing real life, we need to teach them HOW to handle real life.
As we parent and grandparent, we should be thinking, “are my decisions helping my child develop the skills necessary to thrive as an adult”?
Second, we need to assess our motives.
Stop for a minute and think about why we are being overprotective. Is it so we don’t have to do extra work?
Because our parents were overprotective?
Because we don’t want our children to face rejection like we felt when we were younger?
Because we are impatient?
Are we seeking power?
Because we don’t trust our child?
Because we are unfamiliar with the situation?
Because we don’t know enough about our child?
I know for me there are times when I become overprotective because I don’t want to do more work. For example, I overprotect and micromanage the kids when they are outside to keep them from getting dirty, so I don’t have to do more laundry. Or I don’t let our 3 year old climb into her carseat by herself because I am impatient. Or I don’t let our older kids get their own cereal, because I don’t want to clean up their mess or spill (that might occur because they are learning). These are all situations where I am overprotecting. I am doing things for them that they are capable of doing themselves. They are not safety issues, which are different.
Third, Respect PLAY!
Play is how children learn. It provides the ultimate school room for learning and development. Kids are meant to run and jump and climb and play. It is through play that kids develop. So let them play!
Let them try new things, build forts, get dirty and get in arguments with the neighbors about a game. Let them solve problems without you stepping in. And teach them before hand what to do if they are playing and there is a stranger, or a new situation.
It has actually been found that kids fall and get hurt LESS when they are left to play by themselves, than with parents who are constantly telling them to be careful and jumping in at the smallest sign of danger.
Avoid over-scheduling kids, so they can have time to play. One, maybe two activities for each child is plenty. Be sure there is unstructured time each day and let them solve their own problems. Don’t tell them what to do, but instead encourage them to entertain themselves. You don’t need to provide a million toys and games. Let them explore the leaves and dirt and rocks and trees.
Kids who don’t play enough, are less creative, more likely to struggle with depression and mental disorders, less empathetic, more likely to struggle with an anxiety disorder, struggle to play with other kids, solve problems, make decisions, etc…
Fourth, Teach them the how and why.
For example, guns and swimming pools. Teach them gun safety and teach them how to swim and be safe by the pool. Because they are going to run into both situations in their life and you cannot always be there to tell them what to do. Teach them so they can handle the situations that they will surely encounter.
The key is to warn them (and teach them BEFORE the situations arise, instead of during). That way you are not overprotecting. For example, if you are going for a walk by the river, teach them before hand of the water dangers and how to be safe, but still explore. NOT when they are in the water and you are on the shore yelling at them to “get back here”, “don’t do that”, “too dangerous, come back here right now.”