The parent of today is quite different from the parent of 20 years ago.
If you are today’s parent, you read up regularly, follow various parenting blogs and try to stay aware about the resources needed to raise a child effectively. You try your best to meet all your child’s needs be it at a physical, mental or social level. Many of you may have also decided on the kind of parent you would like to be. This could be based on the kind of parenting you have received as a child.
“I’ll give everything I have not received to my child”, “I’ll be the best parent and will ensure that my child is always happy, protected and successful” are commonly expressed thoughts.
Hence, you go through the first few years of parenting while painstakingly fulfilling every need of your child. When your child is bored, the next toy or game is readily furnished. When she is about to cry, her favorite youtube video is ready. If she refuses food, varieties of alternatives are present. If she is confused while reciting the alphabet, ready recitals are given. When she runs into a fight with another child, the parents are spoken to. Each problem is solved, each barrier, removed.
Is this kind of Parenting truly Problem Free?
Considering the degree of preparation and effort involved, you might expect that this kind of parenting would be least likely to create any problems for your child in their future. However, as a common consensus among psychologists, we find that this may not always be true.
As overprotected children grow and enter middle childhood and teenage, psychologists find that many of them fall into one of two symptom buckets:
One bucket is Anxious and Underconfident:
These children are overly worried and have low self belief. They may have difficulty in making even smaller decisions with confidence. They may have difficulty taking initiative and be overly dependent on others to fulfill their needs.
The other bucket is Self-Centered and Entitled:
These children grow up with a sense of entitlement. They do not like to take responsibility for their actions and are looking at others to do things for them. They come across as self centered and are unable to build meaningful relationships.
Observing these behaviors in your children, you worry and you question yourself– “Where am I going wrong? I am giving my child everything, every single time!” Not finding a satisfactory answer to this, you continue the same pattern of giving them whatever they need. This makes the problematic behavior even more pronounced.
Looking into your pattern of overprotecting will give you an understanding of where the problem lies.
Overprotecting Your Child: When You ‘Give It All’
When you take care of “everything”, you are unknowingly overprotecting your child. Every decision from the smallest, like what to wear, to the bigger ones like future plans, are highly influenced, or perhaps even taken by you. If your child ends up facing a problem, you have ready solutions that you want the child to implement. Sometimes, you may even implement it for him or her. You shower your child with too much attention, too quickly, to take away his or her pain. Different people can overprotect their children in different ways. You may not be doing all the things described, but do you have the orientation of quickly solving all your child’s problems? Do you find it hard to tolerate your child’s discomfort?
If you do, you are probably overprotecting your child. What happens as a consequence is that the child rarely has opportunity to face a crisis or a challenge and use his or her own devices to navigate through it.
For example, the child has not learnt to stay with his boredom for a few minutes and figure a way out. He has only watched his boredom being taken away. He grows up to be impatient, easily frustrated and impulsive, not having the resources to deal with boredom.
Similarly, if the child handles a fight wrong, and then figures how to handle it right, she has learnt how to manage. On the other hand, if you have handled it for her, she has only watched it, not learnt it.
It is thus not surprising that these children grow up to have little belief in their abilities to manage their environment. They are unable to try, because they have had little opportunity to try and fail. They see failure as meaning that they are not good enough, rather than as a part of the process of figuring something out.
If you do identify with these patterns, it’s not too late. Effective parenting, simply put, is to equip children with the necessary tools to become healthy, emotionally stable, competent and independent adults who are ready for bigger challenges in life. A parent is a guiding light under which a child begins to design his future.
How do I Begin Changing this Pattern?
Keep in mind that it is a good practice to allow your child to use his or her own resources before you step in. You can help your child when they are stuck. However, once they get unstuck, let them take the lead.
Ask them what they feel and how they would like to deal with the situation. Give them the inputs they need to decide well; but let them take the lead. This way, the child has support and guidance while they are also actively involved, thinking, figuring it out and growing, through each situation.
See how you uneasy you feel when your child is navigating through some situation. Take a few deep breaths and see if you can stay with the discomfort instead of acting out of it. Staying with difficult emotions increases our capacity to tolerate and manage it. It also reduces the urge to act impulsively and gives you space to pause and respond in a more healthy manner.
This post has been contributed by Gitali Chatterji. Gitali is a psychologist and counselor at Inner Space. She works with adults in individual therapy and in relationship therapy.