Perhaps it’s because I am neurotic, paranoid about my children’s physical safety or just because I think too much about things, but the term over-protection has grated on me. I would think “how can you over-protect?” Then, it hit me, when people speak of others – negatively – as being over-protective what they really mean is that the children are being sheltered. Because, after all, protecting our children from harm is a god-given and natural instinct.
Here’s what I think about the difference between protection and over-protection.
PROTECTION IS ABOUT:
1) Health and safety. It is our job to teach our children how to stay safe, remain safe, and act wisely. This will encompass many different things from their infancy to their adulthood. At first, we teach them not to climb on bookcases, the sofa, walk into the road or play with knives, the hot oven or the neighbor’s mean dog. As they grow older we teach them about strangers, how to ride a bike, good driving skills, which neighborhoods to avoid, etc. In the training aspect, I believe we can focus on this fairly heavily, though not to the detriment of other areas of training.
2) Keeping them from dangerous things. Similarly to teaching basic health and safety habits this is where we single out specific areas, geographic regions or behaviors that are dangerous. This may be a cliff drop off in the neighborhood, not going near the pool without adult supervision, the stovetop, not riding their bike on busy roads, and the basic practice of helping them to see and discern areas that are potentially dangerous.
3) Disciplining and training in a way that they obey you the first time you call. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You must require first time obedience. Now, of course, this will not always happen. But, if you hold to your standard and expect a response after your first direction (provided they heard you) then you will begin a helpful parent/child interaction. This isn’t to become a dictator, boss them around, or make them tiny little follower robots. It is so that in an emergency if you yell “stop right now” then they will immediately freeze. Many kids I know just ignore their parents. “Come here, Dandelion…come to mommy… come here now….I’m going to count to 3…. If you don’t come here right now we’ll go home…” Then the child reluctantly, when the mom finally goes and grabs their arm, relents. This is not first time obedience, in fact this is outright disobedience and it is extremely tiresome to the mother and dangerous for the child. The way to instil first time obedience (from babyhood on) is simply to say a command once, knowing they have heard you because they are maintaining eye contact or you were loud enough they couldn’t miss it, then you await a response. If they balk, you walk over and wait. Perhaps you repeat once and if they do not do it, you take them gently and go have them do what you requested. Each and every time. Never make a demand you will not require. Never say something you don’t really care about. They will quickly get the hint. Of course, it doesn’t work every time, but your children will know that you mean business and that goes a long way.
OVER-PROTECTION IS ABOUT:
1) Sheltering them from reality. Letting your children think they live in a world that never involves, chores, responsibilities, hardship, trouble and suffering will make them weak and ill-prepared for the future. Many Christian parents raise their children in a utopian bubble they wish the world around them represented and it often has a disastrous effect. Instead of raising strong and healthy children who are prepared and able to go out and become Rescuers, they are insecure and feel inadequate compared to other children who know how to function properly in the real world. This does not mean we are Debbie Downers and make our children watch documentaries on poverty and orphanages and homicide rates (although as they grow up perhaps this is a good idea) simply to show them how cruel the world can be. This simply means teaching them to cope and be skilled and prepared from a young age to cope with their world. I’ve seen books for young girls on bullies in elementary school, this is a great example. Showing them strategies and decision-making skills that will help them succeed when they are on their own is the opposite of sheltering. Sheltering is never letting them do things that may happen to expose them to a bad word, a mean person, or a harsh reality.
2) Not letting them experience consequences for their actions. A very big disservice we do to our children is not letting them experience the logical consequences of their actions. If you say “do A or B happens” then B needs to happen if A goes undone. No excuses, no “next time you will have to do B.” Simply, let it happen if you’ve said it. If they run out of money and need some but their next allowance is not due for another week, this is a great opportunity to teach financial management. And, working extra hard to save or coming up with other sources of revenue in the meantime. Breaking a toy or game (perhaps not by accident) means you no longer have that game to play with. Not doing your chores means no privileges. Children need to know there are consequences to their actions long before they leave the house. Once they’re in the real world they will be responsible for their behavior. Tardiness on a regular basis can get them dismissed. University professors don’t care about your excuses. The electricity people will turn your lights off.
Hear me out, I don’t mean make life hard, I mean teach your children to thrive and flourish within parameters that make life easy.
3) Not teaching them to be adults. We have a lot of “adults” out there who are as helpless as children. Mark Driscoll says that men are like trucks, best steered when carrying a heavy load. We don’t have to have our children miss their childhood (that is ridiculous), never let them play or have them balancing your checkbook at age 5. But, in each stage of their development and their life, we can draw correlations to adult situations and train them for success. Children who grow up understanding how to think wisely about money have strategies and knowledge to draw on when they need it. Doing everything for our kids until they are teenagers means we will release immature (though perhaps much loved) children into the adult world which will expect them to act like adults. Yet, if we’ve never taught them to be adults they will be insecure and fall many times. Failure is unavoidable to a certain extent, but allowing them to fail under our own roofs in a safe environment is far more nurturing and helpful to their confidence and egos. You can steer them through their failures and they’ll be stronger for it. If you don’t teach your child about money and by the age of 20 they are left with very bad credit, they will be negatively affected by that for a long time. And guess who they will come to asking for help? You. So you may as well start young and avoid the trap of credit card parenting.
I love my kids and would protect them from every bump and bruise if I could. Alas, my almost two-year old just got a cast off her arm. The best laid plans… I love to let them play and have fun and be young and carefree, but at the same time, I do and will try to help them be wise, knowledgeable and well set-up to succeed. We can protect them physically and teach them how to protect themselves. We can over-protect by not preparing them or the world we will expect them to live in. Or we can protect them and prepare them. I believe every mother wants to do what is best for their children, so let’s get at it!