As a parent, your natural instinct is to protect your young ones from harm. But when that care goes too far, it can lead to kids being overprotected and having few real-world experiences. Have you found the balance?
These days there’s a lot of talk about what makes parents “overprotective” and what makes them “not protective enough.” True, there was once a time when kids were encouraged to jump freely around jungle gyms and to walk home alone. But that was a time when the media wasn’t constantly reporting stories of kids severely injuring themselves or worse — disappearing. So it’s understandable that many parents keep their guards up a little more. But if you want to ensure you have a healthy balance between protecting your little ones and letting them live their lives, here are a few things to consider.
Do your research
Every age group is different, and every child is different. That’s why reading as much as possible on the development of children is so important in helping you know how to protect them. Two-year-olds, for instance, have no concept of danger and genuinely need constant supervision. By 3 and 4, many kids can play on their own more easily, but they do need regular guidance and support. With each passing year, kids can slowly be granted more freedom. But if you’re having trouble distinguishing when certain freedoms are appropriate, looking up books and scholarly articles on the subject is your best asset. You are the most reliable advocate for both yourself and your child, so don’t shy away from any educational reading.
Talk to yourself before talking to your child
It’s instinctual for parents to say “watch out” or “be careful” when they’re worried their kids might be in danger. But overprotective parents tend to see extreme danger in even the smallest situations. And if you constantly tell your child there are things to fear, he may grow up to feel anxious and unsettled unnecessarily. So before you jump to cautioning, ask yourself what you’re trying to protect him from. If he’s about to run across the street without looking, the risks are high, and of course you want to stop him and explain the dangers of what he was about to do. If, however, he is playing a little rambunctiously on some wooden play equipment, where the worst-case scenario is that he’ll get a splinter, gently caution him to take his time, but don’t throw yourself or him into a panic. Ask yourself what you’re worried about, and if it truly is serious, voice your concerns, but if the worst thing that can happen to your child is getting a bump on the knee, it’s OK to relax.
Let your child do some decision-making
How often do you leave decisions that involve your child up to your child? If the answer is rarely, then you may be exercising more control than is necessary. Obviously kids need a fair amount of direction in making smart, safe choices, but it’s important that they’re given the information and then encouraged to make some decisions for themselves. When a child’s world is filled with “can’ts,” he never learns to find the places where he “can.” And that can be detrimental all through life. For instance, if your child insists he wants to play in the backyard on a particularly cold day, explain to him why he shouldn’t go out, and then let him make up his mind for himself. If he chooses to go out regardless, he’ll experience the cold for himself and be able to make the best decision on his own next time.
Cut yourself some slack
Ultimately there is no “perfect” way to parent. All you can do is continue to ask questions, learn and try to find the best balance for both you and your child. So cut yourself some slack — you’re doing your best, and that’s what counts!