Why do parents overprotect their children from making mistakes?
Some parents overprotect their children because of their own insecurities or fears, many times stemming from their view of the world as a safe or dangerous place. Overprotective parents may have had experiences in their own childhood where it was unsafe to fail or get hurt, for instance. This can lead them to be hypervigilant in protecting their children from the same hurts they experienced. Much of this is unconscious behavior from the parent.
Other overprotective parents, especially those with narcissistic traits, view their children as an extension of themselves rather than as separate individuals. The uncomfortable, almost intolerable feelings that failure produces in the parent are experienced in equal intensity when the child makes a mistake. Rather than overprotecting to manage the child’s feelings, these parents overprotect their children to prevent those uncomfortable feelings in themselves.
Why are overprotection and strict guidelines more harmful than beneficial?
Strict guidelines prevent the natural curiosity and exploration that is a hallmark of childhood development. If children are not allowed to explore their worlds and discover what is safe and dangerous on their own, they may become overly dependent on others rather than building an internal trust in their own capabilities.
What are some examples of overprotection and strict guidelines that prevent curiosity and trial and error?
One simple example is a parent who is overly cautious about getting dirty. If a toddler picks up a stick off the ground, their natural curiosity is to use all five senses to explore that stick. They might feel it, rub it on their face, taste it, smell it, etc. Their little brains file all this information away so they can build a mental schema and know what a stick is when they encounter it again in the future. If an overprotective parent tells them to put the dirty stick down, the schema that is built is that sticks are dirty and should not be touched.
Where should parents draw the line with protecting their children?
First and foremost, a parent’s job is to keep the child physically safe. But even this can get muddled. It is one thing to stop a child from running into a busy street, and another thing to prevent a child from climbing on a swing set because he might fall. Sometimes, the kid needs to fall to learn what his body is capable of and what it is not. With school-aged children, sometimes it is best to let the child fail because he didn’t finish his project instead of the parent doing the project for him so he gets a good grade. This kind of failure teaches the child to start his project earlier next time and gives the child a sense of personal responsibility and accountability.
What are the benefits of failure?
Failure is one of the most powerful teachers. Failure teaches children limits, capabilities, and internal trust and discernment. We want our kids to move confidently into adulthood. If we as parents overprotect them to ensure their success, the success is ours, not theirs. They need to feel that same confidence when after several tries and failed attempts, they at last perform the task successfully. Why would we want to rob them of that?