(NaturalNews) Remember the news headline from a few months ago about the 2 year old who called 911 to report that his grandmother was not feeling well? The news was full of praise about the kid's actions, but the real story is about the grandmother or whoever is raising a child like that. That person really knows what she is doing. She has managed to empower that child with knowledge to survive in the world and take care of someone he loves. That child has the power to face an unpleasant situation, make a decision quickly, and act on that decision. That child has confidence.
It wasn't so long ago that most children were raised to be confident individuals. But recently a new kind of parent has emerged who can be detrimental to the healthy development of their children. These are the parents who tend to over-parent their children.
Over-parenting is a style as well as a mind-set. It came into vogue when the media began to show us the occasional story of a child abducted or a baby stolen from its parents. Of course, we wanted to protect our children from such horrendous experiences. Then the tragedy on September 11th and the following series of terrorist alerts really turned up the heat on the national paranoia.
We also turned up the heat on each other. Parents now seem to regard over-parenting as a sign of good parenting. If you don't over-parent your child, you may be viewed by others as being a poor or neglectful parent, even as a parent who is willing to endanger her child. In other words, you feel really guilty. Peer pressure among adults can be as intense and destructive as it is among children. And this peer pressure has made us question our intuitive parenting skills, and reduced our levels of self-confidence.
What is over-parenting?
Over-parenting is based on a belief that in order for a child to be happy and secure, he must be protected from any experience he may find unpleasant or challenging. In an over-parenting family, the child comes first, and most activities revolve around him. He is allowed to do whatever he wants and have whatever he wants because telling him 'no' would be unpleasant for him. He is also viewed by his parents as needing their constant vigilance and protection, because the world is a scary place.
Extreme examples of over-parenting can be seen when parents drive their children to school, even on nice days and even though they live only a short distance away. Or the parent who waits for the school bus in the morning with their child after the child becomes capable of getting on the bus alone, or parents who drive their child to the bus stop and wait in the warm car with them until the bus comes. They may bring a special lunch to school for their child, because he does not like the lunch being served that day.
Parents who over-parent make all the decisions for their child. He may not be allowed to dress himself, choose his own friends, or have any spare time for playing or daydreaming. Chances are that his life outside of school will be programmed down to the minute by the parent.
Over-parented children can be seen running around in restaurants annoying other guests who wonder why the children are not being made to sit down and be quiet. Of course the reason is that the children might not like sitting down and being quiet.
Over-parenting is seen when the parent solves the child's problems rather than giving him a chance to overcome the problem himself. It occurs when parents allow their child to avoid legitimately challenging situations so that they are not inconvenienced and so they do not experience discomfort. It can also occur when too much control or too much order is imposed on the child by the parent.
Over-parenting is seen increasingly in affluent families, but it can occur in any socio-economic group. It may be found in large or small families. And it is frequently seen in families that have undergone death or tragedy.
The over-parented child is a protected and spoiled child. He lacks real confidence and is unable to take risks or make decisions. He avoids new situations. He hides behind his parents when a difficult challenge arises, because he has been taught by his parents that they are the only ones who can make decisions. Over-parented children may be any age, but this over-parenting often becomes apparent in the middle grades of primary school when challenges start to increase.
Such things as divorce or change of circumstances can lead to over-parenting or overprotection as a form of compensation for the inconvenience or unhappiness that has occurred. Over-parenting may allow a parent to escape feelings of guilt, but in the long run, it undermines the confidence of the child.
Kicking the over-parenting habit
Your ability to break the habit of over-parenting is directly linked to your level of self-confidence. Parents who are able to allow their children to make decisions for themselves, to use their free time in unstructured play or daydreaming, or to go about in the world without them, are really expressing a level of trust and confidence in the world and a belief that things will turn out all right. When a parent exhibits this level of confidence, the child will learn to be confident too.
Breaking from a pattern of over-parenting may be difficult, especially if your social network and your child's school staff endorse over-parenting. You may find yourself standing alone, or trying to fend off that peer pressure. However, if your child is to the point where he relies on you to think, plan, and do for him, it is time for you to take action.
You can start by acknowledging your feelings of guilt and pressure from your peers. Once you are actively aware of the forces working on you, you will be better equipped to deal with them. Then little by little you can pull back on the over-assistance, decision making, and monitoring. You might start by allowing your child to walk to school, even on days when it is cold or rainy, or get himself up in the morning without your assistance. When a new behavior becomes normalized, go on to another area to withdraw your assistance.
When your child is faced with a challenge, give him ideas, tips or techniques to cope rather than allowing him to escape from the challenge. Help him develop a 'hang tough' attitude.
Cut back on the lavishing of material possessions. Spend your money on yourself for a change. Let your child know that the money you earn belongs to you and that you will be the decision maker for how it is spent. Explain that your goal for him is to finish school and become financially independent, so that he then has the freedom with his money that you now have with yours.
Instead of freely handing out money, give your child jobs to do. No matter how much he complains, doing chores gives your child a sense of empowerment and completion. Chores build confidence.
Children who do best at school and beyond are those who have parents who respond by teaching and supporting rather than protecting or compensating when social, physical or intellectual challengers occur. The greater the level of confidence you can show in your child's ability to cope and deal with the world himself, the more confidence he will gain. Develop the wisdom to see when your child needs your help rather than jumping in to give it from the start.
Remember that modeling is a great teacher. When you act in a positive, decisive and confident manner in your own affairs, your behavior will be modeled by your child.
It can be a tough balancing act between developing real independence and yet not placing too much responsibility on your child. Children need to be guided, protected, and provided for. But this doesn't mean that children should be coddled and spoiled. Being an effective parent requires you to balance head and heart, opportunities for resourcefulness and compassion, and support and protection.
About the author
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.