You've seen it before. Junior forgets he has a science project. And who stays up all night making a motorized racecar out of popsicle sticks? Mom, of course. These are the same parents that buzz around the park with their rotors whirring, unable to keep their nose out of every little playground scuffle. The ones who drive their child's forgotten lunchbox to school each day. And, of course, the same parents that demand that their daughter be moved to a different class because the other teacher "just doesn't understand their little girl."
The desire to overparent typically comes from a nurturing impulse. It is not wrong to want your child to be safe or to avoid difficult situations. But, as long as our children are safe, allowing them the freedom to make poor decisions and navigate challenging situations is actually good for them. When we shelter them excessively, we are also taking away the valuable opportunity to learn and grow.
Dr. Ken West, professor and director of the Center for Family Education at Lynchburg College in Virginia, explains why children need to learn through the natural consequences of their own decisions. "When raised to accept the natural and logical consequences of behaviors, in time young people begin to ask: What will be the consequences of my making this decision? Am I willing to accept these consequences? Or, having made a mistake, they will ask: What is my logical responsibility to others for having made this mistake?"
On the other hand, when we have made all their decisions for them, children may not learn the true consequences of their behavior. Nor will they have an opportunity to develop a healthy sense of self-worth and confidence that comes from making one's own choices.
There's nothing wrong with the desire to be involved in our children's lives. Playing with our children, talking with them, laughing with them and being available to help them navigate especially difficult or confusing situations are all wonderful ways to develop a healthy and loving relationship. And if we resist the impulse to overparent them, they will likely grow into respectful, mature adults with whom we can share a lifetime of positive experiences.
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