As a parent, you’re responsible for your child’s safety and well-being. And most parents take this responsibility pretty seriously. However, sometimes things can go a bit too far. Even though you mean well, it’s totally possible to be overprotective and shelter your child too much.
And while it might keep your child “safe”, it makes for a much more harmful future. Being too protective can have detrimental effects on your child’s development now, and prevent them from growing into independent adults later. So, to make sure you’re not raising an overly sheltered child, stick around.
What do you protect your child from?
Children do need our protection. And when they’re still very young, we protect them from very basic and simple things like danger, pain, and suffering. When it comes to toddlers, we change and adjust their environment to keep them safe.
However, as they grow older and learn how to avoid these basic dangers on their own, we continue to protect children and control their environment.
What sort of things do we try to protect them from?
Failure, disappointment, and rejection are a few big issues that we want to keep out of the child’s experience. After all, we know how painful all of these things can be, and it seems wrong to not step in and keep the path clear for our child.
And this overprotection can extend to friendships, extracurricular activities, homework, etc.
However, we forget that we learn from experience. And we learn very important lessons from our mistakes, failures, and disappointments. So, in a way, you are doing your child a great disservice by not allowing them to experience life in all of its fullness – both its ups and its downs; its joys and its sorrows.
As a parent, your job is not to keep them free from harm, as much as it is to give them the skills they need to overcome downfalls and try again.
Why overprotecting is harmful to children
Author and professor of molecular biology, Nathan H Lents, Ph.D. reminds us that there are two different types of stress: acute and chronic stress.
Acute, or short-term, stress is how we respond to something that’s frightening, dangerous and even competitive.
On the other hand, there’s chronic, or long-term stress, and this is the result of abuse, deprivation, anxiety, exposure to violent content and other negative factors.
As parents, it’s crucial to protect children from chronic stress. However, acute stress is beneficial for childhood development, according to Lents. So, when you remove all obstacles from your child’s path, you actually interfere with their cognitive development and function.
What’s worse, since overly sheltered children don’t have an opportunity to experience and cope with short-term stress, they have a much more difficult time dealing with bigger problems as they get older.
According to Perri Klass, M.D. “If you actually succeed in keeping your child pure and unexposed, you face a much more potent risk: a child who grows up without learning how to evaluate, handle, and get past the occasional unexpected dose of one kind of junk or another.”
Signs you are raising an overly sheltered child
1) You always step in when there's an argument or altercation
If you hear your children fighting, take note: is it just an argument or are children in physical danger. If it’s the latter, step in.
But if they’re just having a bit of a spout, let them ride it out themselves. Do you remember that old saying, “Fight your own battles”? This applies here. By allowing children to fight their own battles, they learn how to communicate, how to cope with negative emotions and how to work with other people.
All of these skills are absolutely invaluable in adult life.
2) You’re obsessed with hygiene to keep your child safe from germs, bacteria, and illness
While good hygiene is important, kids need to be exposed to some germs. It actually helps their immunity develop and to better fight against illness. The same goes for antibacterial soaps, which can actually worsen allergies.
3) You are visibly anxious, worried and disappointed when your child doesn’t perform well in competitive sports, dance, etc
4) You prepare their food even when they’re fully capable of doing it themselves
It all depends on the age of your child, but if you’re making snacks for your teen, you’re not helping them.
Instead, you’re increasing their helplessness and decreasing their self-efficiency. But it should be the other way around.
5) You want your child to live out certain experiences because they were disappointing and/or difficult for you
Maybe you want your daughter to have an amazing prom experience because your’s was so unhappy. Maybe you want your son to make the football team because you never had a chance to follow your passion.
The same goes for grades, universities, colleges, social life, and other life experiences.
6) You are crushed if your child doesn’t get into a school or program
7) You prevent them from taking risks
According to research, children are natural risk-takers. And from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes perfect sense. Risks – and their subsequent successes and failures – are exactly what children need to learn how to live.
8) You help with their homework and even punish them if they get bad grades
If your child needs help understanding a concept, there’s no problem in explaining it. But allow the child to work through as much of their homework as they can on their own.
Tips to avoid being overprotective
So, how can you avoid being too protective and ending up with an overly sheltered child? According to Child Development and Family Specialist, Merete L. Kropp, these five key points can help you give your child the environment they need to grow and thrive:
- Kids need space
- Kids need choices
- Kids need to try and fail, and then learn to try again
- Kids need to explore
- Kids need to stretch themselves beyond their current level of accomplishment in order to grow and reach the next level of learning
As parents, we want what is best for our children, but sometimes that makes us become overly protective. But as we’ve seen, this doesn’t protect the child. Instead, it only makes them less capable of dealing with life as an adult. So, remember Kropp’s tips, and create opportunities where your child has space to explore, to make choices and to grow.