How to Protect Your Growing Children Without Being Overprotective

There's a balance between protection and overprotection.

It’s our nature as parents, especially in our current society, to want to protect our children from every visible and invisible danger. We don’t want our children to get hurt physically or emotionally, and we want them to succeed at everything they do.

However, in recent years, scientific research has shown that overprotective parents, or parents who are constantly intervening so that their children won’t face any harsh realities, may actually be harming their children instead of protecting them. In the long term, overprotective parenting can lead to fear, anxiety, and a lack of skills when overprotected children reach adulthood.

So, how can we protect our children without being overprotective?

This question doesn’t have an easy answer because every child and every parent is different, but there are things we can do to try to release control and let our kids be kids.

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Let Them Make Mistakes

If you’re anything like me, you always want your children to do their best. Many times, though, children don’t feel like giving their best. They want to slack, be lazy, give up, or just walk away. Many of us won’t let that happen, so we’ll push and prod them (or worse, help them do it) until their project, practice, or activity is complete.

The problem here is that if we’re always propping our children up, they’ll never learn to take the initiative; they’ll never be forced to push themselves, and they’ll never know the pain of failure until it’s too late.

Today, colleges are facing this issue more and more. Students are going to college without any ability to function on their own, and many of them end up struggling with anxiety and depression. These young adults have had their whole lives controlled by their parents, so when they’re tasked with facing real-life struggles on their own, they can’t cope.

Bumps and Bruises Shouldn’t Always Be Avoided

Growing up, I’d run through the woods in my neighborhood, rollerblade down steep driveways, and dance in the rain. Parents today, however, want to protect their children constantly. Playgrounds have become soft play areas with no place to bruise a knee, get a burn on the slide, or teeter scandalously close to the edge of death (or, in other words, the high playground ledge). Family neighborhoods are sadly devoid of children running the streets. And, activities have all become safe and choreographed with an ever-present adult to manage them at all times.

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This lack of freedom, problem-solving, and acute (short-term) stress may be detrimental to the developing brain.

Behavioral scientists have discovered, through studying animals, that when the brain experiences acute stress from rough and tumble play, real competition, getting minor bumps and bruises, and even fear it can be beneficial for brain development, social and behavioral skills, intelligence, and even for a robust immune system.

Let Them Get Dirty

Dirt is a good thing – seriously. Now, if someone would have told me that several years ago when my children were all babies and toddlers, I would have laughed at them. I was forever constantly worrying about dirt and germs. Hand sanitizer was my best friend, and I freaked out when one of my toddlers would put something in their mouth that had been on the floor. But, once again, recent scientific research has shown that protecting children from germs and dirt may be hurting them.

Children who weren’t exposed to dirt and bacteria have more allergies, asthma, and a weaker immune system.

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“Just as a baby's brain needs stimulation, input, and interaction to develop normally, the young immune system is strengthened by exposure to everyday germs so that it can learn, adapt, and regulate itself,” Director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University Dr. Thom McCade notes, according to WebMD.

None of this is to say that parents shouldn’t protect their children; it is our job, as parents, to use logic and common sense to protect our children from the many evils that lurk in the world. However, we can’t control everything, nor should we try, because our goal as parents is to raise children to become functioning adults who can contribute to society and think for themselves when they finally leave the nest.

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