Mummy the protector: Over-protectiveness will encourage dependence in children. — AFP
Parents need to allow their children to make mistakes and learn from them.
IT starts out with looking at the top pre-schools while the child is still in the mother’s womb. Before you know it, this need to have the best of everything for your baby has crept into all aspects of his or her life.
Even when the “baby” has now grown past the legal voting age.
Overprotective parents are nothing new, says Dr Goh Chee Leong, Dean of HELP University’s Faculty of Behavioural Sciences.
“In every generation, there are always some parents who are over-protective. I can’t say if there has been a rise in the phenomenon now,” he says.
Chats with parents and children alike indicate that over-parenting is prevalent in families here.
Tagged as helicopter parents, because they hover over their children, these parents’ over-protectiveness often start with the desire to keep their children safe.
Dr Goh warns that parents’ over-protectiveness will encourage dependence in their children.
“If the child sees their parent playing the role of their protector, their boss or their carer, they’ll tend to think that the parents will continue to look at every aspect of their life and always be dependent on them.”
According to the Human Resources Ministry, one reason why more than 70,000 graduates (as at May 2012) could not get a job was their lack of independent thinking skills.
Child development expert Ruth Liew also believes that when parents do too much over-parenting, children do not learn independence.
“They tend to be indecisive and lack confidence,” she says, advising parents to learn to let go from Day One.
“Know what your child can do by himself and do not interfere because you cannot tolerate mistakes or messes. Allow for mistakes (not the dangerous ones) to happen. Children learn from mistakes.”
To deal with the safety issue without stifling their children, parents can teach them personal safety skills while allowing them to do their own thing or go places on their own securely and at the right age.
“How can you instil independence when you are holding on tightly to them? Guidance means showing the way to children without taking over the task,” she says.
Marriage and family therapist Charis Wong of Kin & Kids concurs.
“If you keep protecting your children from the consequences of their own actions, how are they going to grow up to be responsible people? What is going to happen later when you are not there to rescue them, especially when they are grown up?” she argues.
Wong stresses that maturity will come naturally, but only if you allow your child to grow up naturally.
“If you continue to protect them from the world because you think it is hostile and cruel, then their natural growth will be stunted,” she says.
“They will be conditioned to believe that they are weak and cannot survive in this world, and they will get help every time they get into trouble, face problems or a challenge in life.”
On where to draw the line between supervision and giving freedom, Wong believes it depends on parents’ ability to read the gravity of the individual situations.
“Parents need to be able to discern when you should rescue and when you should not help your child. You need to look at the consequences what should your child learn to endure and what is beyond them?”
Ultimately, she reiterates, parents need to allow their children to make mistakes and learn from them.
If the consequences of not getting involved are so serious or so imminent that they will cost the life of your child, then as a parent you should go and help.
If it is a chronic problem, Wong points out, you need to look at the circumstances. For example, if your child’s car has broken down at 3am, then you should help. But parents should refrain from helping their child when they chronically make the same mistakes as they will think that they should be rescued all the time.
“Many helicopter parents are helping their children with chronic problems, so the kids think that it is their right to be rescued. If the parents are burnt out and finally say that they are not going to help any more, the child may play a guilt trip on their parents they will say the parents don’t care about them, or throw a tantrum because they think they should be rescued.”
Dr Goh reminds parents the importance of encouraging independence in their children and equipping them for adulthood.
It is a long-term goal, he stresses, and as a child grows up even at a young age to their teenage years and late teen years gradually parents need to give more independence and responsibility to the child.
“This means they need to be given the opportunity to make mistakes and take responsibility for their decisions.”
However, he stresses, this does not mean that the safety of the child will be compromised.
“For example, teaching them independence does not mean letting them wander around in the park on their own or allow them to out of school. It needs to be planned.”
One way, he highlights, is to allow your children to make their own decisions when they are old enough.
This can be done gradually, he highlights. At the age of two or three, he suggests, children can be allowed to start making small decisions like deciding if they want to wear a blue or red shirt.
“If you don’t allow your child to make the small decisions, they will not be able to make bigger decisions later when they are older,” Dr Goh notes.