Overprotective parents, insecure children

By Itxaso Cembrero Tercero of Sinews, Psicóloga Terapia de niños y jóvenes

When most of today’s parents learned to ride a bike, they just got on one and started pedaling. That was it. Nowadays, kids are taught differently: they get the bike but also a helmet, some elbow pads, knee pads, gloves, etc. This is a very noble and positive mentality, right? So, where is the problem?

Every child needs their parent’s protection against certain dangers they will encounter in their lives but when that protection becomes a bubble that isolates them from the majority of the things that happen outside then it becomes overprotection.

Overprotective parents are those who are continuously trying to prevent their children from being exposed to conflict, or situations that are distressing or painful. These parents tend to be excessively cautious with their children and often feel overly responsible about what might happen to them. They want to prevent their child from suffering, having a bad time, or having to go through many of the things they went through in their own childhood or adolescence. These good intentions lead them to deprive their children of a proper learning experience since it does not provide them with a chance to deal with the difficulties that are inherent to their age where they could extract resources and strategies that would aid them in their future.

Let’s see some possible consequences of overprotection:

Learning difficulties and implementation of social skills
Considering that throughout their life, their mother, father or both, have not allowed them to solve their own problems because they have already solved them for them, these children do not learn problem-solving skills which are something necessary for interpersonal relationships. This usually leads them to have negative experiences with maintaining/keeping friendships. They often have the feeling of barely having good friends; they may suffer many disappointments with friends and not know exactly why. This eventually leads to lower self-esteem.

Difficulty in making decisions for themselves
These children often become very hesitant when making decisions. They feel insecure about whether they will make the right decision or not. They feel insecure about the possible consequences of a particular decision.. This fear of the impact of the decision then causes delay in the decision-making process, along with all the anguish and discomfort that indecision brings with it. This also contributes to a further decline in their self-esteem by not being able to make decisions that, according to what they observe, may be easy for others. Delaying such decisions makes self-esteem decline even further since they are not seeing the results of their actions and therefore they continue to see themselves as an invalid person incapable of taking action.

Search for security in the other
Since these children have learned and gotten used to other people solving their problems and show many difficulties in making decisions and taking action, they tend to rely on others to make decisions for them. They feel insecure and unable to do so by themselves, and need someone to protect them and give them a sense of safety. They may therefore maintain relationships with people who do not offer them anything more than merely solving their problems for them and making them feel protected.

Give up easily
These individuals tend to give up too soon. When faced with any difficulty that they don’t know how to face, they prefer not to deal with it and avoid it instead of getting to work and find possible solutions. They feel incapable of doing anything and at the same time, they are afraid of making mistakes so often they do not even try, and in so avoid failure.

Low self esteem
As we have been pointing out, one of the most important consequences is the low self-esteem, feeling unable to do anything good for and by themselves. For a long time, even years, the child has not been able to test his/her personal competence and skills. Maybe they have tried to make their own decisions and carry them out, but excessive paternal/maternal overprotection has led them to not to see the results of that decision making. Often, excessive parent recommendations to be cautious lead the child to be exposed to a lot of criticism, which can further this negative self- concept. The child lacks the external positive assessment of their behaviors and decisions, but also lacks the self-appraisal about these behaviors and decisions, this is a key aspect to develop a self-concept and a healthy self-esteem. When we overprotect our children we are giving them several subliminal messages: “You are not capable”; “You can’t do it”; “You cannot rely entirely on yourself”. There are parents who prefer to hide information from their children for fear of suffering or frustration. Children need to be able to take charge of situations, always tailored to their capacities consistent with their age. We must gradually teach them how to manage the limitations, doubts, and small frustrations that come with everyday life so that they can develop coping resources. On the contrary we are exposing them to difficult situations without tools of their own which at critical moments can lead them to an unstructured state. In many cases, parents also are ahead of their children because they can do it faster and better but we must remember that learning requires patience and time and effort is a basic stone for them to learn about themselves, how the environment that surrounds them works, and thus feel capable/empowered.

Parental overprotection during childhood has its most severe consequences during youth and especially in adolescence. At this age the child has to start accepting his/her own identity for the first time and face situations that they have to solve by themselves, , and become part of a society that is going to require everything that he/she is capable of giving, but if the child has been overprotected throughout their life then when the become a teenager it is unlikely that they will be able to assume his/her responsibilities and adopt the role that corresponds. It is in this moment that stressful episodes, anxiety, etc., may occur.

Therefore, in order to not pass on our own fears to our children and avoid overprotection, I leave you with some tips that might be helpful:

  • When the child asks us for help, it is essential to give suggestions for how to solve the problem him or herself with his or her own resources and of course to not judge the solution they ultimately arrive at.
  • It is normal for children to make mistakes, so it’s important to not get ahead of ourselves and try to avoid this from happening Instead, it is important to help them see that each time they do things better.
  • Have patience. You need to take the necessary time to allow the child to develop on their own.
  • You should explain to your child the reasons behind your actions, so that he / she can act independently, even if there is no adult at his / her side show him / her how to do so.
  • Do not try to prevent them from making reasonable sacrifices. The child can perfectly well assist in household chores like setting the table, making the bed, picking up his / her room, taking out the trash or learning not to give too much importance to an uncomfortable situation.
  • If your child is shy, try to encourage him /her to go out of the house more often, to expand their circle of friends more, to share things etc., not by forcing them, but rather giving him / her ideas.
  • In situations that they might find difficult, it is important to ensure they do not avoid them, but rather, we must prepare them by dialoguing with them.
  • We must protect them from the real dangers, but not to the extreme of making them fearful people.
    Children need to test, taste their success, try to improve and achieve difficult goals, compete, overcome their failures, and to understand the feelings of o
    thers. We must prepare them so they can participate in society and for this we must not minimize the realities of daily life. . We have to let them discover the meaning of triumphs, disappointments, of joys and sorrows, both their own and those of others.

Preventing children from suffering by solving their problems, when they could solve them by themselves, makes children feel good and secure in the short term, but it’s only a temporary relief. As we have seen, this situation only makes their parent’s fears about the suffering of their children become a reality in a long term.

Protecting our children means letting them make mistakes and experience any suffering that comes as a consequence, while all the while ensuring they know that their parents are there to help and support.

Therefore, let’s not Overprotect our children, let’s Protect them.