It’s only natural for parents to want to be involved in their children’s lives, but for years educators and psychologists have been asking the question: How much parental involvement is too much? When does trying to help your children in school, sports, and myriad other ways go too far, hurt their development, and become overprotective?
The recent explosive college admissions scandal seemed to answer that question. Television actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to jail for paying $15,000 to influence the boosting of her daughter’s SAT score. Fourteen other parents in the probe have also pleaded guilty.
While most parents don’t cross that legal line, early education expert Christine Kyriakakos Martin says too much parental involvement can be harmful in a variety of ways, sometimes leading to children becoming ill-prepared for the challenges of adulthood.
“The consequence of being an overprotective parent is that your child will lack self-confidence to make decisions and take risks,” says Martin, author of You’ve Got This! Keys To Effective Parenting For The Early Years. “They’ll lack the coping skills to get up when they fall down from a bad experience and try again.” Martin offers four ways for parents to stop being overprotective and promote more strength and independence in their children:
Stop teaching fear.
There are certainly non-negotiables when it comes to teaching your child safety, like wearing a helmet when biking, not talking to strangers, or not texting when driving. But Martin says sometimes parents overprotect when they create too many boundaries, which in turn may teach children to live fearfully. “When you don’t allow them to play outside much, you’re impeding their freedom,” Martin says. “Play develops the imagination and self-confidence. Overprotective parents don’t want their children to fall down, and getting back up and brushing themselves off is a necessary component for healthy growth and development.”
Don’t be their full-time problem-solver.
Martin says many parents want to take care of all of their chidlrens’ problems and make things easier for them. At some point that needs to stop, she says. Adult life is rife with adversity and unforeseen obstacles that we must learn to deal with independently. “Teaching children problem-solving skills encourages them to be independent,” Martin says. “Learning to resolve conflict on their own and work through problems builds resilience and teaches them how to handle adversity.”
“If you make their beds and clean their room, you’re doing them a great disservice,” Martin says. “It’s about learning early lessons in responsibility. Doing these things for a prolonged time can debilitate your child and set them up for a lack of life skills as adults. Let your child take on reasonable responsibilities and let them feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Let them branch out.
Sometimes parents develop a comfort zone with their child’s pursuits and restrict them when the child wants to expand. “Let your child have some freedom to make some of their own decisions about their interests,” Martin says. “Interests change, and the more varied experiences they have, the better for their ability to make decisions and adapt to different situations.”
“Parents are right to protect their children in a dangerous world,” Martin says. “But having them grow up in a bubble hurts them and their ability to deal with the world as adults. The best thing you can do for your children is to find that balance between protecting them and teaching them to be strong and self-sufficient.”
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