“Children must be given respect for their capacity to learn from experience, including painful experience. There can be no more difficult prescription for a loving parent to follow than this: children must not be overprotected. …Overprotection protects parents and damages children.”
– Rusk & Rusk (1988, p.24)
So exactly what is overprotective parenting, and how do you know if you’re an overly protective parent yourself? After all, every loving mother and father must be the primary guardian of their child’s welfare, and it’s often a tenuous line between having a practical protective instinct and being an overly protective parent. This information will help readers understand what distinguishes the two.
The definition of overprotective parenting
Though there is no formal definition for overprotective parenting, it generally shares the following key traits:
- Overprotection aims to address or alleviate a parent’s anxieties rather than those that come from the child.
- It places restrictions based on what might happen rather than what is reasonable to expect. It’s driven by a fear of experiencing hurtful things.
- It attempts to shield a child from any and all unpleasant experiences or hardships.
- Overprotective parents view negative experiences as an evil rather than a character builder that could make a child stronger.
- Overprotective parents harbor the view that children are fragile flowers who might shatter into a million pieces should something bad happen.
Signs of overprotective parenting
Here are some indications that you might be an overprotective parent:
- You incessantly worry about little things happening to your child, such as upsetting events at school or conflicts with friends or adult caretakers.
- When something negative occurs, your first instinct is to try and fix it for your son or daughter.
- You sometimes find yourself arguing with other kids on your child’s behalf.
- You find yourself complaining to school staff more often than other parents.
- You often “stage” events or micromanage a child’s affairs to ensure that everything goes properly.
It’s a parent’s job to be protective, but all parents must distinguish between providing a protective umbrella for safety purposes (no playing in the street, no getting in cars with strangers), and trying to protect a child against experiencing life or enduring struggles that make the parent anxious (Alex is a boy, what if they end up in sexual play? . . . What if she falls down and hurts herself? . . . What can I do to fix this and ensure that kids are never mean to her at school?).
The latter type of overprotection aims to manage a child’s life or even limit certain experiences altogether, not because they pose any inherent and reasonable danger, but because they stoke a parent’s anxieties or might make a child uncomfortable. This is the type of overprotective parenting that limits a child’s experiences, causing far more long-term harm than what typically occurs even when a parent’s most pressing fears are realized.
Examples of overprotective parenting
Overprotective parenting can come in several different styles, and over the next few pages we’ll highlight the more common varieties.