As a parent your instinct is to protect your child from harm, to hold them tight and to love them unconditionally. Helping your child to thrive and be successful may come natural. However, could you be overdoing it by overprotecting them? Whilst it is important to help children grow and to encourage them to gain their own experiences, the right balance between supporting them and not overprotecting them also needs to be achieved. How can this balance be attained? The following are some tips.
- Encourage them to speak up for themselves – this is called being assertive. Rather than speaking in their name, encourage your child to answer questions themselves. If you are at a restaurant do not order for them; allow the child to place the order themselves. When you go shopping ask them to give the money to the cashier. If someone is bothering your child, empower them to stand up for themselves.
- Promote independent skills – there are 4 main types of self-help skills: feeding, dressing, hygiene/toileting and daily chores. During mealtimes, provide children the tools to be successfully independent e.g. bowls that attach to the table. When it is time to get dressed encourage the child to dress by themselves. Start with simple items such as socks and pull up pants. Teach children how to brush their teeth and how to wash their hands after using the toilet independently. Children also need to be encouraged to help with clean-up from an early age. Once they finish playing ask them to put away their toys. You can also direct them to set the table.
- Allowing them to make choices – avoid imposing your ideas onto your child since doing so can interfere with the development of their own identity. If you are deciding to which extracurricular activities to send your child, ask them what they are interested in. Do not just assume that boys will want to attend football and that girls will want to attend dancing lessons. Give your child a voice and allow them to express their ideas and wishes.
- Respect their privacy – As your child gets older they will seek to have their own space and develop the need for privacy. Avoid interrogating them by asking them too many questions; this will only make them feel annoyed. Focus on developing a trusting relationship with them so that they will feel safe to share their worries and concerns with you.
Children will develop into independent adults when the relationship with their parent is built on collaboration rather than control. In a collaborative relationship the child’s ideas are heard and considered. If they are guided and supported by their parents when faced with difficulties children learn to consider different options and to choose the best one. This will enable them to become good decision makers.
In conclusion, be there for your child but give them the space to do things on their own and to learn from their own mistakes. Remember, you cannot always be there to protect them.
Dr Marilyn Muscat is registered as an Educational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom where she trained. She works with children, adolescents and their families to understand more about educational, social and emotional well-being concerns that they have and to help them improve upon their difficulties.