Where fear about safety can become a stranglehold

Kajal Srivastav doesn’t allow her 5 year old son to attend school picnics for fear he may hurt himself.  She rushes her son to the doctor at every sneeze, fearing swine flu!

Sudha doesn’t send her child by school bus because she feels bus drivers are rash.
Raman is always anxious about his teenage daughter. He does everything for her including packing her school bag!

The Chopras don’t send their son for sleepovers or allow him to mingle with the colony children. They send him everywhere in a chauffeur driven car and make him skip school the day the car is not available.

All parents worry about the safety of their children. Which is but natural since they’ve seen their child as a fragile infant, constantly dependent on them for everything.

Unfortunately some parents carry over babying and mollycoddling their children to an age where it is neither appropriate nor healthy.

Over protectiveness Vs. Genuine fear for safety

“Cotton wool” parents who wrap their child in a cocoon tend to go overboard in certain areas. Check if you may be doing the same!

  • Are you afraid to allow your child to play alone in the park even though other kids his age do the same?
  • Are you so scared that your child will be bullied/teased that you don’t allow them to mingle with unfamiliar kids?
  • If your child complains that she can’t get along with others in a class do you pull her out of it?
  • When you take your child for a day’s outing do you carry all possible medication and emergency equipment?
  • If your child gets home late from a play-date do you call up to enquire every few minutes?

Over-protectiveness goes beyond just “taking care” and “looking after” your child. It can become stifling, debilitating and have numerous negative consequences later in life.

What happens to an overprotected child?

  1. The Child becomes overly-dependent and fears doing anything alone.
  2. Worse still, the parents fears start getting transmitted to the child who soon finds everything threatening. The child will fear new experiences, unknown social settings and later will fear the unknown itself which can translate into various adult phobias!
  3. The child becomes an object of ridicule and is unlikely to be among the “most popular” in school.
  4. Older children tend to see this protectiveness as lack of confidence in them rather than parental love. They are likely to think “My folks just don’t trust me” or “My parents don’t feel I’m responsible enough”. They finally become rebellious out of frustration.
  5. The child grows up with low self-esteem and may be under-confident and pessimistic about most things in life.

Breaking the trap: How to avoid being overprotective

Step 1: Get an objective opinion: Ask someone you trust- your spouse, a family member or friend whether they feel you are overprotective as a parent.

Step2: Read up: Understand age appropriate capabilities that your child should have. Most overprotective parents are completely ignorant about what developmental milestones are and what their child should be doing at various age levels.

Step 3: Curb your anxiety: Keep an upbeat attitude and let go! Unnecessary worrying and fretting about your child will only get you ulcers and stressful relationships!

Step 4: Take baby steps yourself: Begin by letting your child do small things independently, under your supervision and as per their age norms. For example, letting the child do what other kids around him are doing.

Step 5: Cut the apron strings: Allow your child to try new experiences (such as sleep-overs, staying at grandparents or relatives homes) without you! In all likelihood your child will sail through and it may be only you tearing your hair out in anxiety!

A final Word: Overprotection can cost the family a whole lot in terms of health, relationships and your own social standing with others. So explore where your anxieties about your child stem from (perhaps your own childhood experiences) and consider taking counselling for the same, if necessary.

(Originally published in RobinAge, December 2009)