Shobha, a successful corporate lawyer, is the mother of a 13-year-old. She completes her daughter’s homework because she believes she can do a better job, she swiftly intervenes to sort out any conflict between her daughter and her peers, she dictates her daughter’s choice of friends and playtime — essentially, Shobha rules every moment of her daughter's life. As her daughter stepped into her teens, she became withdrawn and developed a feeling of resentment towards her mother.
Parenting has taken a very different turn over the past two decades. Parents no longer allow their children to be on their own — for example, to walk to school and back home or play unsupervised in the playground in their neighborhood. And now that security is a major concern, parents have become extremely watchful of their children and what they do. Psychologists term this phenomenon ‘Helicopter Parenting’.
Helicopter parents are overprotective and obsess over every single detail of their children’s lives. They often do things like listening to their child's phone conversations or, entering into an argument with the teacher about their child missing a mark or two in the exams. They take over their child's life by structuring and scheduling their waking hours to the last second.
You are an overcontrolling parent if:
- You are constantly worried about your child’s academic performance and take it upon yourself to teach and train him at an extraordinary pace. You often enter into heated discussions with his teacher or other parents.
- You don’t let your child indulge in free play; instead, you design her games and track her every move in the play area. ‘Catch them before they fall’ is your usual mantra.
- You are quick to answer on your child's behalf whenever someone asks him a question.
- You are always worried about your child falling sick and strictly monitor what she eats or drinks.
- You are excessively worked up about your child performing well, be it the class, on stage or in a friendly game.
Often, parents who are controlling, have good intentions and want the best for their children. However, their overprotective attitude does not allow children to develop the emotional and behavioural skills required to learn self-regulation and decision-making.
What makes parents cross the line and become overcontrolling:
- Some parents are programmed to believe that they should raise a perfect child for which they should do everything right. They feel that any omission or flaw may cause their child to fall behind others or feel deprived.
- Some are of the opinion they should ‘unlock their child’s potential’ at a young age. To make that happen, they enroll their child in as many activities as possible, overscheduling her in the process.
- Some parents are always trying to outdo other parents. However, in the process, they lose focus of what they should or shouldn't do for their child.
- Parents who were deprived of certain comforts while growing up feel that they must ‘make up’ for their lost childhood by providing their children with everything.
Despite all their good intentions, it is time that overcontrolling, overprotective parents realise that they are doing more harm than good.
How parents' controlling attitude harms their children:
- Overscheduling by enrolling the child in several after-school activities can make him feel fatigued or give rise to psychosomatic symptoms like headache and stomach pain.
- Overprotective parents do not allow children to learn or execute tasks independently. Such children also find it difficult to engage in higher order thinking skills.
- Some children with overcontrolling parents become very scared even if they lose small things while others develop a negligent attitude towards classroom learning as they are confident that their parents will help them out.
- Overcontrolled children have difficulty adjusting with peers and have very few friends as their parents are constantly ‘fighting their battles’ for them.
- It is not uncommon for children of helicopter parents to have a low opinion of themselves as they feel ‘helpless’ without handholding by their parents.
- Scientific studies also point to the fact that children with such parents tend to become withdrawn and are less keen to maintain a good relationship with their parents.
- Over a period, children become apathetic to their controlling parents' constant nagging.
How to break the overprotecting and controlling pattern:
- Learn to relax: Take a moment to breathe and let go. Try to understand that it is not possible to orchestrate every moment of your child’s life.
- Teach problem-solving: If your child wants to sort things out with her classmate or seek help from her teacher, let her do it on her own. Encourage your child to be assertive instead of fighting her battles for her.
- Allow your child to do things on her own: This is a very important step towards deep learning and building effective time-management skills. It also gives a child the opportunity to explore and find out what she is passionate about. Remember, it is okay for a child’s project to look amateurish. Parents doing their children’s school projects are not doing them a favour.
- Don’t overcompensate: There may have been several instances while growing up when you would have felt deprived. Memories of those hard times can prompt you to go that extra mile and overcompensate to fulfill your child's needs. However, you will be surprised to know that your child is not looking for everything to be perfect and is not even worried in most cases.
- Hone decision-making skills: As a parent, it is your responsibility to set limits for your child. However, give your child the independence to make some decisions by herself within the boundaries you set for her.
- Don't overschedule: Don’t burden your child with after-school activities just because every other parent is doing so. It not only increases the stress levels of children but also of parents, as you will end up taking your child from one class to another.
- Make family-time a priority: Having a lengthy chat and a hearty laugh is more important than your child excelling in all activities. Sharing life experiences and telling your child value-based stories will help her develop a better sense of self than doing structured activities.
- Let your child feel bored: When children feel bored, they learn to use their imagination and bring out their creative best. Overscheduling does not leave a child with the time and space needed to play and explore.
While child safety is of paramount importance, it is wise to ease up the reins when it comes to study, play and other extra-curricular activities. Children need freedom and independence to grow up into responsible, successful individuals. Giving them the space to grow and allowing them to learn from their mistakes is the key to raising well-balanced children.
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