It’s a parent’s job to protect their child, but can there be too much of a good thing? Yes, because overprotecting your child robs them of the opportunity to learn how to safeguard themselves. However, every situation is unique because every child and family is one of a kind. If you think you have overprotective tendencies, you’re not alone. The concept of “Mama (or Papa) bear” is a very real phenomenon. However, it’s important to shift your protective tendencies as your child ages. Nobody wants to be a helicopter parent.
How can you make sure you’re not veering into overprotective territory? Here are a few clues:
Look to others
This doesn’t mean you should let other people dictate your parenting. However, if numerous people have commented on your protectiveness, that’s a big red flag. If you’re uncertain, you may want to talk with your pediatrician or—even better—a family therapist. It’s often tough to see the forest for the trees, which is when external input can be helpful.
Consider your past and habits
If you had an overprotective parent, if you’ve been in alcohol rehab, or if you’re very Type-A, these are all situations that can lead to a person being overprotective. However, this isn’t a given. It’s possible for someone to have a helicopter parent themselves and grow up to be a parent who is committed to not making that same mistake.
Gauge your protectiveness by the status quo
Is your child right when they say “everyone gets to do this” (i.e., go on a field trip)? It’s a parent’s natural tendency to reach for the “jumping off a cliff” metaphor, but don’t go there so quickly. If everyone else truly is doing it, and the school or other trusted organization deems an activity safe, you might want to ask yourself why you’re so wary of it. You want your kids to be safe, of course, but you also want them to enjoy their childhood. That can be challenging when they’re not allowed to do anything.
Let your child learn from their mistakes
It’s impossible for a parent to protect their child from every danger, and you don’t really want to. Within reason, it’s important for children to learn from their mistakes as these are often the best teacher. As long as a child isn’t in physical danger, or at risk of permanently damaging themselves or others, it might be a good idea to let life be the teacher. There are better odds of them truly learning from mistakes and making better choices in the future.
Welcome the village
Maybe you’re co-parenting with someone else or perhaps you have a wide network of friends and family who want to help with child-rearing (if this is the case, count yourself lucky). It’s normal for a parent to think nobody can take care of their child like they do. However, even if that is the case, it’s important for children to have many people in their life who care for and love them. Different experiences, and different “teachers,” will make for a better environment.
Consider family counseling—even if you don’t need it
Mental health is just as important as physical. When it comes to family dynamics, you’re too “in it” to see if there’s room for improvement. Seeing a family therapist regularly, perhaps both as a family and individually, can help outfit you with the tools you need for a healthier, happier family.
Not all overprotective parents suspect it of themselves. Listen to others, including your children and family members. They may see something you can’t.