Are you over-parenting your child?
It’s something I thought about a lot before Cassie came into the world. As a nanny, I would see other parents hovering over their children at the playground, helicoptering them on the equipment and stopping them climbing on anything too tall or too tricky. It often made me cringe. I thought back to the broken arm I got when I was eight years old after diving off some play equipment and the amazing bike rides my brother and I used to take together, with no parents in tow. It was freedom at its best. Sure, times have definitely changed since then and it will be a long time before I give Cassie the freedom to head out on her own, but over-parenting is a real thing and seems to be happening far too often.
One of the most important things we can do for our children is help them build resilience, but unfortunately, our over parenting is putting a stop to this essential life skill. It’s a skill that will see them through their lives and have them achieving and dealing with setbacks without breaking down in the process. They will have the confidence to manage anything life throws at them and overcome that to the best of their ability. But the only way you can teach resilience, is by stepping back, lowering your helicopter blades and letting them learn – and trust me, it isn’t always an easy thing to so. Here are some questions to ask yourself to find out if you are over-parenting your child:
How do you react when they have a fall?
If your answer is that you run to them straight away, cuddle them, help them up and then offer them ice-cream so they feel better, then I am afraid you are showing the classic signs of over-parenting. Kids learn how to react from your reactions, just try it and you will see. My gut instinct tells me to run to Cassie when she falls, but I make myself hold off. Every single time, she looks at me to see how I react, and when I don’t, she usually gets on with things and doesn’t bother reacting herself. Of course, sometimes the tears do come, and I wait for her to come to me to tell me what hurts and kiss it and tell her it’s all better, then she is off on her way again.
If your child is stuck at the park, what do you do?
If your answer is that you run, pick them up and take them to smaller equipment that they can handle then once again, give yourself a tick for over parenting. Sure, some parts of the park are designed for older kids and some for younger, but kids need to be able to explore and we shouldn’t pigeon hole them and their abilities. I had always prevented Cassie from going on a big slide at the park, directing her to the baby one instead. One day, she walked up, climbed the stairs by herself (which she had never been able to do before) and went down on her own. I had been over parenting her. So I let her keep doing it. Other parents watched and made remarks about her safety and I nodded and smiled and watched on from a distance. Unless she wanted my help, I wasn’t going to interrupt. If your child stuck, then a better option is to offer guidance on how they can get out of this position. This will teach them problem-solving skills, which are very important when it comes to building resilience.
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If you see your child about to make a mistake, what do you do?
If your answer is that you quickly redirect them and prevent the mistake from happening then you earn a point for over parenting. We all make mistakes, even as adults it is unavoidable. As an adult, it’s something we learn to deal with and move on from, but in order to do this, we need to have developed resilience in our early years. If you are constantly correcting or preventing your child’s mistakes, when something happens and you aren’t around, they aren’t going to know what to do or how to handle the situation. Mistakes happen, it is how we deal with them that is more important and what we should be teaching our children.
Do you ask a lot of ‘why’ questions?
For example, if your child doesn’t clean up the play room and you end up tripping on one of their toys, do you ask them why they didn’t clean when you asked? If so, once again you are over parenting. What we should be asking is the ‘how’ questions, by explaining to your child that you just hurt yourself tripping on one of their toys and asking how they think that can be avoided in the future, you are asking them to problem-solve in the process and actually think about what has occurred. These questions can continue over the years to help your child deal with everything from bullies at school to tricky school assignments. Once again a little guidance is always welcomed, but it is developing a skill that will stay with them for life.
It’s not about getting your child to do everything on their own. Building resilience is about letting them know they can ask for help when they need it, but otherwise you trust in their abilities to give it a go. Stepping back is hard, and the last thing we want to see is our kid fall over in front of us with a broken arm. But these breaks heal over time and come part and parcel with early childhood. As they say, kids will be kids, we just need to step back and let them be just that.