Is my child safe?
Sonali Sharma will not send her eight-year old son on the school bus because she has heard that the bus drivers drive rashly. Preeti Mishra does not allow her twelve-year old daughter to sleep over at her friends' houses because she feels that she is not sure if other parents will provide adequate supervision. Lynn D'Souza says she gets the jitters every time her son climbs onto the jungle gym in the park because she is convinced he will fall and hurt himself. Mukesh Mehta did not allow his daughter to go on a school picnic to the beach for fear that she may drown.
When a child is born, it seems so fragile, feeble and tiny that it is only natural for parents to feel. Parents feel responsible for these tiny creatures that they have brought into the 'big, bad world' and intend to be their guardian angels for the rest of their lives. Parents want to shield their children from all conceivable harm, but for how long and to what extent? Parents need to remember that children do grow up. They cannot expect their children to hold 'mummy or daddy's' hand forever as they make their way through life. Children do not tiptoe through life, they romp, they run, they jump, and they explore. Given this scenario, parents should accept that scratches, cuts, bruises, and broken limbs are all a part of childhood. Parents who constantly run interference between their children and the real world are actually doing more harm than good.
This does not mean that children are the best judges of the risk involved in any activity or that parents should not be cautious. But how does a parent know if he or she is being unnecessarily fearful for his or her child's safety? Parents who view every physical activity as being potentially dangerous; those who only feel reassured when their children are under their watchful eyes; those who are more anxious than their children that something will go wrong; those who hover over their children constantly giving instructions; those who rule out all activities that have an even remote possibility of resulting in an accident; those who feel that their children cannot cross a road without being run over or go out alone without being abducted are parents who could be said to have inappropriate fears.
Downsides of being Overly Protective
Parent's fears for their children's safety, if extreme, can have an adverse effect on their children's confidence and self-esteem. By molly-coddling a child, a parent is only making the child more dependent and inhibiting her attempts to learn to do things by herself. Overprotective parents unintentionally send out a message to their children that they are incapable of handling things by themselves. In addition, the parents' fears transmit themselves to the children who, in turn, begin to perceive dangers lurking in every new activity and experience. It has been observed that children have fewer falls, tumbles and injuries when left to play by themselves than with parents constantly cautioning them, and ready to leap forward at the slightest sign of danger. Parents who fear that an activity may be risky should warn their children beforehand rather than while they are engaged in the activity. Else, the warnings merely serve to transmit the fear to the children and distract them, leading to a greater probability of an accident.
When a child does something on her own for the first time, it is a great accomplishment, even if it is something as insignificant as learning to ride a bicycle. Parents who wrap their children in cotton wool, in a manner of speaking, are denying their children this pleasure.
Over-protectiveness with older children
Older children most often do not perceive parental overprotectiveness as stemming from love and concern. They believe that their parents just do not trust them to be sensible and responsible. Older children can react to their parents' excessive fear in one of two ways: compliance or resistance. If parents voice their fears in terms of doubts, e.g. "Are you sure you can do it?" or give them dire warnings of the worst case scenario, it can result in the children giving up the idea or activity altogether because they too begin to doubt their capability. On the other hand, children can react with defiance.
Parents of such children begin to lack credibility in their children's eyes because they seem to have an extreme view that the world in general is a dangerous place. They feel that they are denied the normal pursuits of their peers merely because their parents have unfounded and baseless fears. Such children react with resistance because they believe that their parents perceive them as being accident-prone and having poor judgement.
How to be less overprotecting: Establishing lines of communication
Overprotective parents should change their attitude if they want their children to grow up as independent, confident adults. If a parent suspects that he is excessively protective, fearful and inhibiting, then as a first step, he should confirm his doubt by asking the other parent for an opinion. In the case of a single parent, he can share his concerns with someone equally concerned for the child's welfare or even other parents. This will act as a reality check. While he need not adopt other people's opinions as gospel truth, the advice and information will help him make an informed decision about what is safe for his child.
The second step he should take is listen to his child. He should try to convey to his child that his caution stems from concern for the child's safety and not from a lack of trust in the child's competence. He could discuss the dangers of the activity with the child and advise him what to do in case of an emergency. He should make judgements based on an assessment of the child's overall competence and judgement.
Despite adopting these measures, there may still be several occasions where a parent may still deny his child permission to participate in an activity. But this is a parent's prerogative and has the weight of experience and superior judgement behind it. What is safe and acceptable for one child may not be so for another. At the end of the day, parents are the best judges of what activities are acceptable for their children in terms of safety. However, the child will realize that while she may be denied this particular pleasure, there will be other activities that will be permissible. What is safe and acceptable will always be a bone of contention between parents and children, but the important thing is for parents to realize that sometimes they just need to let go.
You may also be interested in:
- The Indiaparenting Team