How to Protect your Child without being Overprotective

Keeping a child safe from harm is a tremendous responsibility as well as a tremendous challenge. Children are immature and thus have a tendency to make poor decisions that can put them in danger. A parent must walk a fine line between giving the child the freedom necessary to grow and mature while also limiting that freedom in a way that keeps the child from being placed in a dangerous position. How can a parent be protective without becoming overprotective?

A parent has a natural instinct to watch over the well-being of his or her children. To protect someone is to guard or defend that person against any dangers that might come his or her way. The proper role of a parent is to watch out for any dangers or any potentially dangerous situations that a child might not be able to handle. The more time that a parent spends with his or her children, the better he or she will be able to assess the maturity level of a particular child and the better able to judge what situations that child is prepared to face. As a particular child demonstrates increasingly good judgment, the parent will feel free to allow the child to participate in more complex situations. Good parenting is a careful balance between encouraging growth and maturity and being vigilant about the many dangers that lurk in the shadows about a person’s children.

The danger is that the desire to protect a child may turn into being overprotective. To be overprotective is to coddle a child in a way that is unhealthy and limits the ability of the child to mature properly. Being overprotective is often a result of being more concerned about how others view the parent rather than how others view the child. Many parents consider that how others view them is based upon how their children behave. The tighter rein that such a parent can keep on his or her child, the less freedom that the child is allowed, seems to limit the trouble that the child can get in. Overly strict boundaries may have some short-term success, but they create a ticking time bomb that will ultimately lead to a child who breaks loose in unpredictable ways. Many parents lose control of children completely by trying to clamp down too hard, too fast, and for too long.

Freedom must be experienced in controlled steps in order to understand how to handle it and how to make good choices within it. No person is born with the innate ability to encounter many options and to regularly make the right choice. Properly protective parents will allow their children to experience freedom in reasonably controlled circumstances. Failure to do so, while seeming to be safer for the child, will actually retard the child’s growth and maturity and more importantly create a sense of frustration. It is natural for a child as he or she grows to desire to separate from the parents. The maturity process involves learning to make decisions without the help of a parent and creating a unique identity separate from that of a child in a family. While a child is always a son or daughter, that child also desires to create other relationships of a different nature. Providing too few opportunities for experiencing freedom is a failure by a parent to provide proper protection for the lifetime of a child.

A key to being a reasonably protective parent is creating open lines of communication between parent and child. No parent should expect that his or her child will reveal everything and that is actually a good thing. Even children should feel free to have a unique world separate from the relationship with parents. But, the child must feel free to discuss important interactions, situations, and opportunities that come about. The more that a parent can be part of a child’s world, the more likely that the parent will be aware of changes that can lead to danger. A fine line needs to be walked between creating a surveillance situation where everything that a child does is monitored intensely and having reasonable oversight of a child’s activities. A child who feels that everything that he or she does is under intense scrutiny will seek to hide things from parents in a way that is often not healthy. Children who do not feel they can relate openly with parents will find others who will fill that role and these people may not be safe to be with. The parent gets the first opportunity to establish a good, open relationship and taking advantage of that opportunity will set the foundation for a reasonably protective relationship over time.

Protecting children is a combination of parental vigilance and developing a smart child who uses good judgment and makes good choices. Parents must set a good example for their children in how they conduct their lives. Parents who make good choices and take reasonable risks will help their children to do the same. The vigilant parent will allow a child to take reasonable risks and accept when the child makes mistakes. Accepting that children are not perfect and that their immaturity will result in wrong choices is important if a parent is to have the patience to work through the ups and downs of a child’s development. The overprotective parent will come down too hard on a child who has made a poor judgment and thus retard that child’s ability to mature and grow. Parents must learn to let go at the appropriate times and trust that they have trained their children properly. At some time the parent must allow the child to succeed or fail personally and to accept the consequences of doing so.

Overprotective parents refuse to allow their children to suffer reasonable consequences for their actions. But being overprotective will not produce the kind of strong, independent people that will succeed in life. Every parent should have reasonable concern for his or her children, but that concern must be balanced against the desire to develop a mature ability to make good decisions. Protection is necessary, but being overprotective will be avoided by allowing for reasonable growth in freedom combined with good communication channels and allowance for mistakes in judgment. The reasonably protective parent will be rewarded with a healthy, strong child who grows into adulthood ready to tackle whatever challenges may come and finding success in doing so.