10 Ways To Avoid Overprotecting Your Children
Last updated: August 9, 2020
In 1976, I was born to parents who had wanted children for years but were told it was doubtful due to my mother’s endometriosis. I was their one and only child, and to say I was overly protected would be an understatement. If you have ever seen the movie the “Little Giants,” you will know what I mean when I say I felt like my mom wanted to wrap me in bubble wrap to protect me from danger.
She did the best she could, but she struggled to contain her fears of losing me due to a miscarriage years earlier and years of losing hope of ever becoming pregnant.
Mother constantly reminded me of every potential threat when I was growing up, and would even encourage me to avoid many of life’s normal experiences whenever possible in fear that something bad would happen to me. I can remember wanting to play football, but mom repeatedly reminded me of how dangerous it could be.
Dad tried to blame mom as the overly protective one, but he just let her do the dirty work even though he was just as afraid of losing me as she was.
Unfortunately, this type of “protection” led me to feel more and more afraid and trapped. By the time I was able to drive, I had begun having panic attacks.
I am not blaming my parents because they were doing the best they could. But their fears of something happening to me led me to view the world as a very scary and dangerous place.
While we want our children to be aware of potentially dangerous situations, we don’t want them always walking around on eggshells waiting for bad things to happen. It only causes the body to produce stress hormones and keeps us on edge all time.
I now have a 16-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. My son will get his driver’s license soon. One thing he and I often talk about is respecting other drivers on the road, but also learning to relax as he drives.
I remember driving and feeling tension in every muscle in my upper body. That is not how we want to drive and not how we want to live. We want to teach our children to enjoy the moment and what they are doing rather than worrying about all of the “what if’s” all of the time.
We want to find that balance of teaching our children to make wise decisions regarding safety and enjoying a moment of spontaneous adventure.
Ask yourself this question, am I overly protective of my children, or am I helping them enjoy the opportunities they are given?
If you are an overprotective parent (also known as helicopter parenting), there are things you can do to help your children avoid growing up anxious.
10 Ways To Avoid Overprotecting Your Children
1. Give your children age and ability appropriate responsibilities, then hold them accountable to them.
Overly protective parents often absolve children of doing age and ability appropriate responsibilities, such as household chores, because they don’t want their children to “grow up too fast” or “struggle under the burden of daily chores.” While this approach sounds loving, it can cause great harm to the child’s development.
Children should be given age and ability appropriate responsibilities even at an early age so that they learn how to manage responsibilities when they grow up. Responsible adults aren’t born, they’re made.
In an episode of “Last Man Standing,” Bud (Mike’s father) asks Vanessa (Mike’s wife), “Does Mike pick up his socks?”
Vanessa replies, “Yes!”
Bud says, “You’re welcome!”
By teaching Mike responsibility when he was growing up, Mike became a responsible adult.
We raise healthy and responsible children when we give them age and ability appropriate responsibilities when growing up. We raise irresponsible and helpless children when we forego that because we want them to be “happy.”
2. Allow, even encourage your children to experience adventures without you.
Whenever possible, let your children go to summer camps, church group outings, and other experiences where they are away from you so that they can experience life without you.
Children need to develop a healthy sense of themselves without dependency on their parents all the time.
As children find their independence and personal strength, they build confidence that reduces anxiety and stress.
3. Keep your worries to yourself.
As a parent, it’s understandable to only want the best for your children and for them to be safe. If you are worried about your children and the activities they may be undertaking, keep your concerns to yourself.
For example, you don’t want to be constantly vocalizing worst-case scenarios and telling them all the things they need to be watchful for. If your children see you anxious, they can become anxious, too.
Yes, there are situations where you want to alert your children to potential danger, especially if the risk is almost certain and severe. But instances like these are few in comparison to all others.
Ask yourself this question, “Is the threat significant enough to talk about it with my child, or am I creating additional fear and worry because of my overprotectiveness?”
4. It’s okay to let your children struggle.
Overprotective parents love their children and want them to have a good life. When parents see their children struggling, they like to rush in and solve their children’s problems so that their children can return to “living the good life.”
However, solving your children’s problems robs them of the opportunity to learn and grow. Without children having the opportunity to solve their own problems early in life, they become helpless to help themselves. Learned helplessness breeds anxiety.
If you see your children struggling, let them struggle. That struggle could be the very challenge they need at that time in their development to grow their character in important ways.
If you are having difficulty containing your angst when your children are struggling, leave, and give them the time and space to work everything out for themselves. The skills they learn during that struggle could serve them well over the rest of their lives.
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5. Don’t absolve your children of their consequences.
As parents, we should let our children experience the consequences of their actions so that they can grow up with a healthy sense of personal responsibility.
This also means not absolving them of the consequences, or lessening them, when they encounter them.
As a loving parent, you might think, “I don’t want my children to suffer so I'll let them off of the consequences this time.” Sure, this can sound loving, but it’s far from it.
One of the best things you can do for your children is to let them experience the consequences of their actions, even at an early age. Doing so teaches them that actions have consequences, and when those consequences come due, they have to deal with them.
Learning at a young age that actions have consequences and that those consequences must be faced, is an invaluable lesson that will benefit children throughout their lives.
It’s better to learn that we have to face the consequences of our actions early in life when the consequences aren’t as severe rather than later in life when they are often more serious.
Raising psychologically, emotionally balanced, and responsible adults should be the goal of every parent. It’s not about making sure your children are happy. Responsible adults are typically happy, whereas irresponsible adults typically aren’t – many overprotected children struggle with low self-worth and unhappiness.
6. Encourage your children to be involved in team activities, such as sports.
Being involved in team activities, such as sports, demand more from children. These demands can help children learn to accept criticism and use it for personal growth.
We all need to receive feedback from outside our home. Being involved in extracurricular activities away from parents can provide those opportunities for personal growth that fosters the inner strength and confidence that reduces anxiety.
7. Let your children make mistakes.
Overprotective parents have a difficult time watching their children make mistakes. But making mistakes and learning from them builds wisdom, resiliency, and character.
If you want the best for your children, let them make their own mistakes. Let them fail. They will learn far more from making their own mistakes and failure than they would by you continually trying to prevent them from making mistakes and failing.
8. Don’t let your children’s achievements determine your self-worth, happiness, and validation as a parent.
You’ve likely heard the term “living vicariously through your children.” Many overprotective parents try to do that, unfortunately, to the child’s detriment.
As a parent, it’s our job to raise healthy, well-balanced, and responsible children so that they grow into healthy, well-balanced, and responsible adults. We are to be their parents, but not be a part of them.
As parents, we want to teach our children to be independent so that they can be independent when the time comes. That means you aren’t your child, and your child isn’t you.
Keeping healthy boundaries with your children teaches them that your happiness isn’t contingent on their happiness or performance. This can substantially reduce the anxiety and stress they experience via a co-dependent parent/child relationships.
Moreover, if your children are unhappy and have experienced failures, that’s not a result of your behavior. It’s a result of theirs. As I mentioned, failure is a valuable teaching tool. It’s not wise to prevent or remove those opportunities when they come up.
9. Don’t label your children.
Labeling – categorizing and naming related subjects – helps us make sense of the world without feeling overwhelmed by the multitude of things going on in our lives.
However, labeling children (negatively or positively) has a negative influence on their lives because the label you give them can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, or worse, push your children into boxes that aren’t right for them.
For instance, don’t say to one child, “You’re the smart one!” Then, say to the other child, “You’re the lazy one!”
Or, “You’re just like your mom.” Or, “You’ll always be trying to be as good as your brother.”
Making positive or negative associations and predictions about your children could cause them to be stuck inside that label when they otherwise could have lived a much different life.
10. Don’t take it personally if your children don’t agree with you or take your advice.
As parents, we want to raise independent children who can make their own way in the world as they get older. That means we have to train them when they are growing up so that when they are adults, they are able to make their own way in the world…and feel comfortable doing so.
Letting children make their own decisions, even if those decisions disagree with the approach you would prefer them to take, is one way we can help children grow up to be independent.
To be independent, children need to be different from their parents. Being different means having their own beliefs, values, opinions, preferences, and behaviors.
Being independent also means their interests, hobbies, and career paths could very likely be different from the ones you’d choose, as well.
While it’s prudent to offer your children advice, don’t take it personally if they reject it and go their own way. Making their own way is what independence means.
Yes, love your children and want the best for them. Yes, we want them to live successful and joy-filled lives.
Overprotecting them is not how that is accomplished. Letting children experience life to its fullest, which includes challenges, hardships, and struggles, is the road to their happiness. The sooner they learn how to manage adversity, the better off they are.
Overprotective parenting not only hurts your child but also hurts you. Overprotective parents are typically more stressed and anxious than parents who aren’t overprotective.
Raising your children to be independent and responsible adults reduces their anxiety and stress, as well as allows you as a parent to live a more peaceful, happy, and less stressed and anxious life.
As you can see, the benefits of not being an overly protective parent are many for both you and your children.
If you’ve discovered you are an overprotective parent and you’d rather not be, consider connecting with one of our recommended therapists. Working with an experienced therapist can help you develop healthy parenting skills that will benefit you and your children over the long-term.
If you also discover your own anxiety is driving your overprotective parenting (you have a difficult time letting your children manage their risks and face the consequences), working with an experienced therapist can also help you overcome your parental anxiety so that you are able to parent in healthy ways.
NOTE: Recovery Support members can read an expanded version of this article, “20 Ways To Avoid Overprotecting Your Children” in chapter 20 in the Recovery Support area.
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