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Overprotective Parents May Raise Underprepared Children

Jul 23, 2011 | By Harvey Craft

Overprotected child in paddling poolAll good parents protect their children from harm. Some parents overestimate the dangers in a normal world and deprive children of coping skills and fun.

The perceived threats of overprotective parents are often emotional, academic, or social. To differentiate between what is right and what is wrong when it comes to parenting is not easy. There are social, psychological, an environmental factors that can moderate the effects of overprotection, but children can be placed at risk by well-meaning parents.

Examples of Behavior and Fears of Overprotective Parents

Overprotective parents often seem constantly watchful, almost as if they expect something to go wrong. This vigilance may be more intense away from home when the child is able to walk about and communicate verbally. Overprotection can develop early and become a lasting part of the relationship between parent and child.

Some early signs of overprotective parenting during preschool and elementary years might include:

  • Protection from all harm whether physical or emotional.
  • Immediately running to examine a child when they have a simple fall that produces no distress; if a whimper is the worst result, the parent may have candy or a toy ready for comfort.
  • Having unnecessarily strict rules for children such as remaining in the same room with the parent at all times even at age five or six years.
  • Having strict rules of neatness which do not allow a child to get dirt on clothes or on the child.
  • Expectations that children understand adult rules of deference and demeanor and being quick to punish transgressions.
  • Discipline may be overly harsh for minor offenses.
  • Highly structured rules that try to cover every phase of a child's life.
  • Over-emphasis of academic success.
  • Over-dependence on a system of rewards and punishments.

Parents exhibiting most of these behaviors are not to be labeled as "bad" parents. They may love their children, but do not have a clear understanding of how their actions shape child development. They may be intensely fearful that something terrible will happen or that their children will grow up to be uncontrollable or self-destructive.

Clearly, parents need to establish rules that are fair, consistent, and based on knowledge of how parenting shapes behavior. Permissiveness has its own dangers like raising children who become rude, irresponsible adults. Effective parenting demands a middle ground between being authoritarian and permissive.

Some Possible Negative Effects of Overprotective Parenting

Overprotected child wrapped in bubble wrap

Overprotective parents often unwittingly encourage children to lie. Children learn that expectations are high and may feel compelled to lie about or conceal misbehavior to avoid parental wrath. Of course, when parents find out that the child has lied, it brings more punishment. A vicious cycle had begun.

Children may be abnormally fearful because they come to see the world as unsafe. Their parents' over-protectiveness discourages normal, healthy risk-taking like riding a carousel for the first time or enjoying playground activities.

Since overprotection is based on power over the child, children learn that power is important. Obedient children are desirable, but when they learn that one never questions authority, they may grow up without tools to assess the demands of powerful peers who might encourage dangerous behavior.

Parents may find themselves unable to communicate with their children as they mature. Over-protectiveness encourages compliance, not communication, and it may encourage untruthful communication. The basis for honest, mutually respectful bonds is not strong.

A reward-punishment system can lead to adults who are materialistic and manipulative. Intrinsic motivation may be absent and doing the right thing because it is right may be a foreign concept. Also, feelings of having done wrong may produce depression as the child matures because he has been raised to feel that bad acts and thoughts are and unacceptable part of who he is.

Resentful feelings toward parents may result as children see that most children have more freedom to make decisions and take age-appropriate risks. Resentment may turn to revolt as the teen years approach as the child seeks to escape from what they may perceive as unfairness.

Parents can Protect and not be Authoritative

Parents who come to doubt their overprotective tendencies may start by talking with parents whom they regard as successful and more relaxed in parenting styles. Having reasonable expectations about age-appropriate behavior is essential. Children are not little adults. They need time and opportunities to simply be children.

They must gradually come to specific milestones before they develop ethical behavior and understand that lying and stealing, for example, are wrong. They need guidance to know that playing with knives or wandering away are dangerous. Over-reacting parents will have no better results in making important points than parents who can calmly sit down and communicate with a child on his level.

Every whimper or cry from a distressed child is not a signal for a parent spring into action. The world of children is full of frustrations and minor accidents that they must come to understand as part of life and develop better ways to cope. Parents should encourage these coping skills by reacting with reason.

Overprotective or authoritarian parents put children at risk for problematic behavior later in life. Parenting is hard task without making it overwhelming by getting stressed over every need a child has - the stress itself can become part of a child's personality. Be careful, be watchful, but temper care with reasonable expectations.

(Over)Protective Parents: Helpful or Harmful?, Accessed: May 26, 2011
A Nation of Wimps, Accessed: May 27, 2011

About the author:
Harvey Craft
 is a retired educator and former principal, with extensive experience in teaching grades six through to twelve. He is NBPTS certified in Adolescent Science and now spends his time in educational research, consulting, and freelance writing.
Click here to contact or read more articles by Harvey Craft.

Tags : Parenting, advice, children, child, kids, overprotective

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