As parents, we seek to ensure that our children are protected and cared for. As such, we try our best to provide the safest possible environment and to avoid any situation that might have any negative outcome. Our efforts stem from the hope that if we try our hardest, our children will be safe, both physically and psychologically. As such, we often tell our children statements like “be careful” and “don’t do that”. We also ensure to step in whenever they face negative emotions like rejection, failures, and disappointment. We jump in to rescue them at times of low distress, believing that this will produce the utmost growth. However, as we put effort into protecting our children, we forget that adversity leads to resilience. Our children will not be under our protection for life; at one point, they will have to separate from us and apply their skills in the real world. Overly protecting our children and tiptoeing around them only ensures that they will not develop the skills they need to survive this hard world. To develop emotional regulation skills, children need to feel sadness, hurt, rejection, and disappointment. In addition to a lack of coping mechanisms, overprotection leads to dependency on parents. When the child is used that mommy or daddy will jump in to the rescue at every small fall, they will never learn how to stand up on their own. Children also learn to avoid taking risks; they are quite fearful of the unknown. This also builds up to anxiety. Overly protected children are usually anxious; from a very young age, they learn that the world is not to be trusted and that the unknown is to be feared. Children learn this through their parents’ alarming cautiousness. When parents continuously tell their children to be careful, then the children learn that there is something to fear! There is a fine line between caring for and protecting our children, and creating fear and dependency in them. Balance is key.
Children need to know that their parents will be present to love and support them as they deal with their own struggles and difficulties. Instead of jumping in to the rescue, discuss problem-solving techniques with your children. Help them take action on their own, while ensuring that you are there to support them and that you will step in when needed. Allow your children to experience hardship; this will help them shape a stronger character.
*Samah Salem is currently a school counselor for primary, elementary, and middle years and a private clinical psychologist.