Over-Protective Paret? Try This…

If we were all aware of our parenting style, and if we could always be conscious of our automated reactions to our children (and avoid/correct/respond more helpfully) – wouldn’t life be so much easier? Sigh.

Our brains are built to make mistakes, have realisations and then change our responses. And the neural pathways and patterns we use most often are the ones we tend to use during stress (getting out the door in the morning),  and times of intense frustration (our child won’t/can’t complete homework, or piano practise,  or chores,  or toilet-training).

We aren’t perfect, which means there are always going to be times when we respond to our children without thinking. There is a parenting style which many consider to be Over-Protective. The people involved think that they are responsible and careful. What is rarely understood as that these people have a heightened sense of empathy. They feel what their child is feeling, but cannot turn off the emotional flooding. Their child has a tantrum – they will try to talk them around or bribe them rather than make a stand and endure the intensity of their child’s  (non-consciously because it makes them uncomfortable and unable to manage their discomfort). They are also often the people who believe the marketers sell ing anti-bacterial soaps and safety nets for trampolines, because they non-consciously imagine all the over-whelming emotions they ‘would’ feel ‘if’…

These parents would never allow their children to use scissors or knives as toddlers. These are the parents who won’t let their children out of their sight. These are the parents who are sadly often faced with teenagers/adults who make out-of-character dangerous or foolish decisions (and they usually end REALLY badly) – because the children have little or no experience at measuring danger or risk. It could be the adult child who leaves a high-paying job on a whim – with a young family to support. Or a teenager who has a one off session of drinking too much booze in order to prove they are ‘cool’ and ends up getting their stomach pumped or worse.

The parents in this group will warn their children constantly of the worst case scenario –

“You’ll cut yourself.”

“You’ll drown/get run over.”

“You’ll get sick.”

“You’ll fall.”

Telling a child that they ‘will hurt themselves’ isn’t helpful. It also implies that being hurt is something they can’t manage. Often it isn’t even true – children can cut accurately without hurting themselves as toddlers; they can climb without falling; they can get a mouthful of wave or pool water and not drown; they can play out of sight and not get kidnapped – but of course sometimes these things do happen, and it is dreadful. They’re called accidents or crimes.

These warnings often don’t mean much to the children anyway. A toddler has no idea what drowning means. And do young children really need to have the concept of being taken from Mum and Dad in their head?

The alternative approach works well – simply use the phrase: “You could get a dreadful fright.” We prime this before hand – at times when they do slip or graze their knees with, “You got a fright.”

Young children can relate to words which name their emotions. They NEED to learn as many names to as many emotions as possible. They are more likely to learn from their ‘frights’ than from abstract possibilities – they learn to manage risk and danger much more efficiently. They become more self-assured, because they know they can manage and they know they can manage when things go wrong or make them feel uncomfortable.

Going into deep water without Dad, could give you a dreadful fright.

If you cut your finger, you could get a fright. (Or…say nothing at all!)

For the serious business of kidnapping we simply make a rule: No sweets from strangers; Don’t go with any adult unless Mum has told you to. (And with older children – you can go with safe adults we have perviously identified.) And…if someone does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable – leave.

This approach allows our children to learn, and us to share our concerns without interfering with their learning.

(If this article has been useful donations are accepted via the Koha button.)


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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7 Responses to Over-Protective Paret? Try This…

  1. Laura says:

    I find it fascinating to learn about those societies still living as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. This lifestyle is how 98% of human history has been spent on this planet. What observers tell us is that in these societies, children are rarely cautioned IN ANY WAY. They play around fire, near dangers like cliffs and rivers, yet proceed with reasonable caution. Adults in such cultures do little in the way of overseeing children who are weaned (usually not until age four or older) and don’t provide instruction unless asked (which is, as we know, when learning really sinks in). Perhaps regularly warning children deprives them of competence we don’t imagine they possess. I’m not saying I haven’t cautioned my kids. But I have permitted them to explore, take risks, and asked them to think through their actions in advance. Whenever possible I try to stop myself from voicing aloud my worries. I see there’s wisdom in this approach even if I realize today’s world requires us to provide certain warnings.

    • I work hard not to warn our children either, Laura – and cars (for the very small), kidnappers etc are times that I will make a stand. Certainly putting the emotional context to situations has helped them to learn they can manage when things don’t go 100% right. It interests me to see other children and their parents at playgrounds or parks – while our boys are in the highest branches or on top of the play equipment – most other parents look on in horror and their children seem to need a lot more ‘entertaining’ or ‘protection’. I certainly think the small chances which self-assured children take when they are very young contribute to their competence and capability. Lovely to hear from you. Hopefully will be off dial-up soon and more easily able to ‘visit’ your site too! 🙂

      • PS I would say that many Over-Protective Parents would think it tantamount to neglect not to warn their children in any way, manner or form. And they probably are horrified by the risks we (you and I) allow our children to take as a normal part of their day/learning experience. My aim is to provide this approach of using an emotional tag, rather than the dire consequence approach, so they are more likely to give their children room to develop some self-managing strategies around risk. 🙂

  2. I don’ t let my toddler use a knife, nor will I let my kids on a trampoline without a net. Too many emergency room trips already. And I don’t let my three year old out of my sight yet. But I don’t think I am an over-protective parent.

    I do believe that kids will get minor injuries, and they will survive, but I’m not comfortable handing my toddler a knife. I think it comes down to knowing your child. Some kids may be ready for that sooner.

    • You are obviously a deeply caring parent. I hope this has given you something to consider. I always find it useful when people present an alternative approach to the one I take – even if it’s just to confirm my own beliefs. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  3. I agree, parents do not give kids enough credit most of the time.Children are much more cautious and smart than we, as parents, tend to think.
    On the other hand, my 14 year old still does things that are incredibly silly – falling off the fence, eating a caterpillar on a challenge (luckily, edible one) 🙂

    • I agree. I think children – who are left to manage most of their own risk – manage their own risk far more effectively than we ever could for them. I keep coming back to the reality that our boys are not going to spend most of their lives with us, therefore they have to learn to manage for themselves. Thanks for taking the time to comment – sorry I was so long in replying (dial-up at the moment….grrrrr). 🙂

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