Do you ever find yourself wishing you could wrap your child up from head to toe in bubble wrap?
Do you feel like every time you turn around your kid is teetering on the edge of a step or about to run into a wall? Are you a nervous wreck every time your teenager takes out the car or stays out late with friends?
Well, guess what? If the answer is yes, congratulations, welcome to parenthood. It’s perfectly natural to worry about your kids. You will always feel responsible for their well-being, whether they are still waddling around in diapers or buying diapers for their own children. This is a normal part of being a parent.
But where is the line between the normal worrying that just comes as part of the parenthood package and anxiety so strong it makes you want to keep your child on a very tight leash? There is a big difference between being cautious and overprotective. Many parents might picture an overprotective parent as the mom in the movie “Bubble Boy,” a comedy that follows the life of a young man born without immunities whose mother creates a dome in his bedroom so that he can stay safe. I won’t give away the ending, but you should look it up to see how it goes.
Now, you might not be putting your child into a literal bubble, but in many ways, being overprotective can cause you to do something that has the same effect: keep your child as close as possible and resist anything that would put him or her out into the world. If you see a danger in everything, from the food that your children eat, to the soap in the bathtub or a trip to the playground, then you might be on the verge of being an overprotective parent.
If you want to shelter your children, even when they’ve entered into adulthood, for fear that something terrible will happen, this could be a sign that you might be taking things a bit far. If you watch the news and use every tragic story as validity for your paranoia, you may need to take some deep breaths. The children of overprotective parents spend most of their time seeing the world through a window instead of experiencing it. But, a certain amount of precaution is normal, in fact, it’s necessary. So, how do you know where to place the boundaries for your children?
Depending on your child’s age, there will be different things that he or she should be able to attempt on his or her own. If you are really uncomfortable making the adjustments needed to let your child explore and be independent, then try to take baby steps until you see that not every action will result in an absolute catastrophe or the apocalypse. If you already think you are bordering on being a little too paranoid, then take a moment to think about the things you let your child do, or not do.
Parents, if you think your parenting style might border on overprotective, then first ask yourselves if you ever do some of the following things.
If your children are in their baby/toddler years through school age:
- Do you never let them crawl or walk? Instead, you carry them everywhere even if it makes things harder on you.
- Do you never let them explore their surroundings because what if they eat fuzz? Or get dirty?
- Do you never let them try to climb the steps to the slide by themselves (or help them try) because they will surely fall every time?
- Do you never let them go down the slide because it’s so fast and you’ve heard “things” about kids getting hurt on them?
- Do you not have any stuffed animals in the house because it will definitely cause breathing problems?
- Do you never take them to playgrounds or indoor play spaces because you know those places are just germ factories?
- Do you only feed them organic food because that’s the safest way to make sure they don’t put anything “bad” into their bodies?
- Do you never let them eat out at a restaurant because who knows what ends up in the food, and what about all of the germs on the utensils and tables?
If your children are school age through the teenage years:
- Do you never let them ride a bike because you know it will just result in broken bones?
- Do you never let them stay over at a friend’s house because what if something happens and you aren’t there to help them? Because you feel nobody can actually watch your child but you.
- Do you never let them go on a vacation with a friend? Well, obviously, right? If you’re not even going to let them go to a friend’s house, then you are certainly not letting them go away for the weekend.
- Do you severely censor what they watch on TV because you don’t want them being misguided (or seeing the things they are missing being cooped up inside the house)? Besides, isn’t TV supposed to actually turn their brains into pudding or something?
- Do you not want them going to school, because well, you don’t even want to get started on the list of potential things that might happen. You decide to just homeschool, instead.
- If you do decide to put them in school, then you don’t let them walk, ride their bikes or take the bus….EVER. Plus, you will sit outside and watch from your car for at least the first three months.
- Do you still walk your 17-year old into the classroom? Sometimes, you might even pretend to be a student teacher that needs to stay and “observe” the class.
- Do you never want them to get their license? You figure they shouldn’t be going anywhere anyway, and if they do need to go somewhere you’ll just drive them to make sure nothing happens.
- If they do, by some crazy fluke, get their license, then do you only let them drive to the end of the driveway and grab the newspaper?
- Do you not want them in any car unless you are driving it? Even if the car isn’t running, because “things” could still go wrong. You’ve heard stories.
- Do you not want them to have a job? Because workplace accidents happen every day, right? So you figure it’s best not to work.
- Or if they do have a job it can only be working at the library that is conveniently located next door to your house.
- Do you not want pets in the house, because of too many potential allergies? Maybe a goldfish, but what if it ends up belly up in the bowl?? Your children might be traumatized for life.
- Do you never let them leave the house? You decide this is really the only way to make sure nothing happens to your children, ever.
If your children are in their teenage years through adulthood – that’s right, adulthood, in other words, not children anymore:
- Do you not want them to go away to college? Self-explanatory, really, if you don’t even want them to leave the house.
- Do you never want them to move out ever? You feel it’s nice to have your 40-year-old live at home with you.
- Do you never want them to get married because you know no-one is going to take care of them as well as you can?
- Do you not want your daughters to have children because too many things could happen in childbirth? You feel this is all the more reason for them to just live at home for the rest of their lives.
- If you do actually let your children grow up somewhat and leave the nest, you declare that it’s only okay if they call you three times a day (at least), and let you know where they will be at all times. Because you know, that as long as you know where they are, that will also help keep them safe.
Okay, so some of these might seem to be a little over-the-top, but you get the picture, right?
The “over” in overprotective, basically means that you might be “overdoing” it.
Taking precautions and giving your child the standard warnings of, “Be careful,” and “make good decisions,” are all you need when they are accompanied by guidance and the opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. Children can start to develop their own sense of potential risk in their environment as they explore.
The idea is, these explorations should begin when they are very young and under your watchful eye. This is how babies start to learn cause and effect, which is a very important lesson. Then, as children grow, you start to increase the physical distance between you as they become more independent. This is when they start to learn even more valuable lessons in gauging risk and making a decision about whether or not an action is worth doing.
For example, as a young baby, you are going to be within arm’s reach of your child when he is on a playground. Children need to use the baby swings, they need to have your help tottering around the toddler play area and they need you next to the baby slide in case they lose their footing. They are still learning. As they grow into more independent toddlers though, you can step back a little and let them navigate that slide on their own. Once they are school age they can run around the whole playground as you sit and watch comfortably from the park bench.
This is how children learn to make better decisions. This is how they learn about risk and potential dangers in their environment. Teach them, yes, but then step back and let them learn the lesson.
If you feel that you have tendencies to be overprotective, when you look closer you might find that it’s more about your own insecurities than about your children. If you find that you are genuinely paranoid about the thought of something happening to your child, and you are convinced that if they are out of your sight for a second something awful will happen, then you might be dealing with some severe anxiety issues. If this is the case it might be worth talking to a professional for the sake of your own well-being.
You might think you are protecting your child from the big, bad world, but what you are really doing is severely under-preparing your child for the world. In the long-run, this is what will do more harm. At some point, your child will probably be out on his own, and he will need to have the skills to handle what comes his way. He will need the rich experiences of childhood and his teenage years to develop healthy relationships and build friendships into adulthood. He will need to learn about the world as he grows up so that he can be able to function in the world.
So far this might seem pretty intense, right?
Let’s have a little fun and lighten the mood a bit…what if the shoe was on the other foot? what if your child was the overprotective one in the relationship?
You would never be able to …
- Leave the room without her by your side, you could get into trouble.
- Soak in a warm bubble bath unless she was sitting next to you, you could slip.
- Drink a glass of wine, alcohol is dangerous.
- Have a date night, you’re not supposed to leave the house, ever.
- Wear high heels, you’ll break your ankle.
- Have a job, well, maybe that’s not such a bad one.
- Eat a cupcake, the sugar will make you crazy.
- Go shopping, who knows who is hanging around the mall these days.
- Get your nails done, the polish is probably full of poison.
- Get a massage, what if the masseuse accidentally breaks something?
- Get your hair dyed, that stuff gets into your brain.
- Sleep in your own bed, because what if something happens to you in the middle of the night or you have a bad dream?
Seriously though, in a nutshell, your kids need some freedom to explore as they grow. Starting from when they are a baby they need to have opportunities to engage with the world around them because this is how they learn about life. If they don’t get these experiences, what will happen?
Either they are going to be at home with you forever (if you just thought that would be great, then you’re missing the point. Reread this article), or they are going to become resentful and want to rebel. Or they are going to attempt to go out on their own anyway and fall hard because they aren’t prepared. And falling hard later in life hurts a lot more than a 5-year old falling off of his bike and getting a scraped knee.