We parents are naturally protective of our children. The way we protect our children is dictated by both the physical and social environment we live in, which is ever changing. Apart from being instinctively protective, we also protect our children based on subconscious patterns that have worked for us. Thus, whatever we do, feels so right. However, it doesn’t necessarily always turn out right! Overprotection, intentional or unintentional, is an exaggerated or a misguided way of showing love and care.
It is often the subconscious fears from our childhood that makes us parents overprotective. We feel the urge to do more than what is necessary for our children to keep them always happy. We give them what they want, whenever they want. We also have a tendency to overprotect a child who is ‘special’ - she may have been born after a long wait, she may have suffered a life-threatening experience, is an an adopted child, is an only child, or is a favoured child.
Answer the following questions with a YES or NO, to see if you are an overprotective parent:
- Panic or feel very distressed when your child has a fall and bleeds a little?
- Anticipate a difficulty and sort it out before your child can face it?
- Get picky about your child’s friends because of potential ‘bad influence’?
- Solve problems for your child even when help is not required?
- Manipulate situations to ensure success for your child?
- Decide who should be her friends?
- Snoop around on his privacy - always checking his phone messages or calling up his friends to find out more about him?
- Text her several times to know about her whereabouts?
- Disapprove of him taking small risks, making mistakes and end up lecturing him most of the time?
- Talk to her teachers almost every day to see how she is doing?
- Believe that your child is always right, and blame others for things that go wrong?
- Take ownership for and not entrust your child with any responsibilities?
- Believe that your child should never be mischievous, to avoid complaints from others?
- Advise your teen that those around him are bad and should not be trusted?
- Ask her to avoid sports and games to prevent injuries?
- Not let him run small errands because he must cross the road?
- Keep a sterile home so that she doesn’t pick up infections?
- Comfort him even when he is not distressed or mildly distressed and not struggling with it?
- Tell her what to do and how to do, and not allow her to use her own reasoning, ideas, and learn from trial and error or mistakes?
- Become anxious even when she is comfortable doing something on his own, and insist on helping him?
If you have answered mostly YES to the above questions, you are an overprotective parent. You'll need to spend some time in self-introspection so that you can change your parenting approach. Also, you will need to rectify the mistakes in your approach. Here's a list of common mistakes of overprotective parents.
10 mistakes overprotective parents make and how it affects their child:
- Overindulgence – When parents give children much more than what they need. The indulged or pampered child grows up to be self-centred, selfish and demanding. Entitlement becomes her right.
- Intrusion – Ever-curious parents who lack trust in their child and are constantly snooping around his personal belongings, making enquiries from his friends, thus intruding into his privacy. The child harbours resentment and anger, which leads to conflicts between the parents and the child.
- Restriction – Over-concerned parents who lay down irrelevant and inappropriate restrictions on the child’s behaviour, for fear of misbehaviour. The child becomes inhibited and fearful, and may withdraw into a shell for comfort.
- Controlling – Parents who believe that the child must be strictly controlled to keep her away from harm. A strictly-controlled child usually rebels during childhood and finds ways to outsmart or deceive her parents.
- Manipulation – Parents manipulate the environment to protect the child from experiencing defeat, frustration, emotional pain and disappointments. Such a child is deprived of experiences that will teach him valuable life skills such as resilience, hard work, problem-solving, and learning from failure and accepting defeat with grace. Devious means, ruthlessness and unhealthy competition become his tools to stay ahead.
- Low expectations – Parents have low expectations from their child and discourage her from taking responsibility for herself and her tasks. The child grows up to be an irresponsible adult, expecting her colleagues and spouse to accept and support her ‘life is easy’ attitude.
- Over-dependency – Parents who encourage the child to stay overly dependent on them because it feeds their unmet emotional needs. The child encounters difficulties in relating to people, has emotional conflicts in balancing intimate relationships, especially between parent and spouse.
- Rescuer – Parents who anticipate the child’s needs and meets them even before he asks. This leads to learned helplessness, where the child’s self-belief is poor and he leans onto others for support because of lack of confidence in his own abilities to solve problems.
- Micro-management – Parents who closely monitor every aspect of their child and deprive her of the space and opportunities to learn through curiosity, exploration and discovery. The child becomes fearful, nervous and anxious in social situations, and an easy victim for bullying.
- Over-parenting – Over-involved parents who hover around the child to ensure that he meets no hurdles or challenges. The child learns to be helpless and passive in negative situations, feeling hopeless and powerless to face or change them. He blames his own incompetence for failure and is unwilling to do something about it. Such a mindset in adult life will destroy his career prospects and interfere with family relationships.
“Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.” (author unknown). Because even overprotected children grow up. It requires emotional strength in parents to watch their child experience mild discomfort in social interactions, face little challenges and handle mild distress. These experiences prepare the child for bigger challenges and adversities in life. The skills learned during childhood will mature into competencies required to lead a productive adult life.
So, parents, take a few moments to reflect upon your parenting styles. Are you preparing your child for future independence, competence and emotional stability? If you are, then you are an overprotective parent, and what would it take for you to change ?
Arundhati Swamy is a counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programmes at ParentCircle.
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