17th October 2019 All Posts Partnership with Parents

Protecting Vs. Coddling: A Primer for Parents of Toddlers

Parents naturally feel a fierce need to keep their children safe and comfortable. Regardless of whether their child is walking to a house a few blocks away, learning how to ride a bike, or playing with other children at the playground, parents want to make sure that no harm comes to their young one, and this can trigger all kinds of anxieties. 

How a parent expresses these emotions can help determine if they are protecting their child or if they are coddling instead.

While the intention of providing the best care for their child is a positive thing, becoming a “helicopter parent” as a result can come with negative effects. The term brings to mind the image of parents who always spend time at the school and get involved in their child’s studies as much as they can. Such parents may end up doing their child’s work for them in their desire to see that everything is done right. They may even point to the school’s staff or policies as the reason for their child’s poor grades or performance.

Parents who find themselves demonstrating helicopter parenting may simply be overly anxious about their child getting hurt or experiencing failures. It’s important to curb the tendencies to parent in this manner as research indicates that watching your child too closely and not letting them make mistakes could have many unwanted results.

Negative effects of helicopter parenting

Much like other well-meaning guardians, helicopter parents want what’s best for their child. Parents often cross a fine line, wanting to get involved without losing perspective on what the child really needs. However, by not allowing children to make their own choices and to handle challenges and failure on their own, the young could develop the following:

Low self-esteem and confidence

Low self-esteem and confidence

When parents do everything for their child, the latter could end up feeling fearful and anxious. He may believe that he doesn’t have the skills to do the task, that he’s “not good enough,” or that his parents do not trust him to do something on his own. Any of these factors can lead to the child not having any confidence to try anything new or difficult.

Lack of coping skills

It is natural for parents to protect their children from hurt and pain. In some cases, this may have stemmed from the parents’ own experiences, and as a result, they don’t want their offspring to feel the same way they did. However, while feelings of pain and disappointment may be considered negative, they are actually necessary experiences that can help a child become emotionally stable.

Lack of coping skills

Committing mistakes, failing, and overcoming challenges help to create resiliency. When a parent is continuously present to solve an issue for their child, the child is prevented from thinking things through on his own, learning how to handle the problems by himself and pushing through with the challenge until completion. 

At some point, people will feel stressed. Individuals with healthy coping skills find positive ways of working through the emotions. 

Learning how to deal with stress becomes an issue for children of overprotective parents. Because they are always shielded from these negative emotions, they will feel less competent in dealing with issues and any stresses that come their way. 

Sense of entitlement

Some overly coddled children may develop anxiety. On the other hand, there are children who grow up feeling entitled. 

Sense of entitlement

When helicopter parents do everything for their kids and go out of their way to make life close to perfect, it gives children the impression that this is the norm. It teaches them that things should always go their way. If not, then they can just have somebody (or one of the parents) to make it so. 

An example would be the parents talking to the teachers to give their daughter higher grades or talking to the coach to give their son more time on the field. Whatever the case may be, this sends a signal that children can get what they want without putting in the work or making an effort.

How to protect without coddling

There are several parenting styles. Even couples who practice the same method will do some things differently depending on the situation. Of course, each child is also unique, which can change how parents react to the situation.

Given these factors, the way you raise your children will be different from how everybody else will choose to raise theirs, and this is normal. Still there are general measures that you can employ and integrate with your methods for raising your own kids.

Knowing between risk and danger

Most parents want to protect their kids and keep them safe. But there is a difference between protecting them from situations that are risky, and protecting them from situations that are dangerous.

In risky situations, you allow your children to try things out supervised. This is what the best nurseries for child development do. There are pre-schools with spacious play areas that encourage children to explore, play and learn in a safe and stimulating environment. 

Parents can do the same thing and allow kids to explore and experiment on their own. Supervision is still key, especially during the initial stages. It is also essential to inform the children about the risks, rules, and other vital details that they need to know before letting them go off on their own.

Let’s say your child is learning how to ride a bike. You would teach him how to keep balance while riding the bike, how and when to brake, and what to look out for while biking on the street. It is up to them to decide what risks to take.

Putting them in danger is letting them swim without teaching them how to safely move about in a swimming pool or what safety risks are present in such an environment. The same is true with letting them light fires or be around strangers’ pets or wild animals.

In the first situation, the child knows that it is a learning process. He knows that making mistakes and failing is part of this process. With the succeeding examples, there is no preparation process and the child is at risk of getting severely injured.

Let children do things for themselves

At times, parents may be unaware that the things they do for their children could be harmful to the young ones. Shielding them from disappointment and pain is difficult but necessary if they are to learn all about the world. Along the way, they also learn about themselves.

Children love to copy what their parents are doing. Let them follow your examples, but remember to teach them to think and do things on their own terms as well. 

Learning about risks from mom and dad is one thing, but experience can be a better teacher for children. The scrapes and bruises they get let them know how to play more safely next time and what to expect. Thinking and acting independently under the guidance of their nursery teachers also gives them the courage to try things out by themselves, even if that means engaging in school activities without mom or dad holding their hand all the time.

The line between protecting and coddling children is quite thin, and it is easy for any parent to cross that line. By taking these tips to heart, more parents can become more aware of the differences and learn how to raise confident, emotionally stable kids.

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About the Author

Alan Williamson is the Chief Education Officer at Kings' Education, a premium school brand in Dubai which leads a fantastic group of premium UK curriculum schools, including Child’s Play Nursery. As well as being passionate about teaching and learning, Alan has been actively involved in school leadership related to Special Educational Needs.