(Health Secrets) The media recently reported the story of a 9 year old who acted quickly and decisively to save the life of his teacher who was having an terrible asthma attack. Experts were full of praise for the boy’s actions, but the real story is about his parents and how they managed to raise a child like that. Those parents really know what they are doing. They have managed to empower their child to face an unpleasant situation, make a decision quickly, and act on that decision. Their child has confidence.
Building self confidence in children was once a matter of common sense. 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: the over-parenter.
Over-parenting is a style as well as a mindset. It swung into high gear after the tragedy on September 11, 2001 and the following series of terrorist alerts that turned up the heat on the national paranoia. Of course we want to protect our children from horrendous experiences.
We turned up the heat on each other, too. 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 have been made to feel really guilty if you don’t over-parent your child. Peer pressure among adults can be as intense and destructive as it is among children. This peer pressure has made us question our intuitive parenting skills and undermined 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 live a sterile life and 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. The over-parented child is viewed by his parents as needing their constant vigilance and protection, because the world is a scary place.
Over parenting is seen when parents drive their children to school even on nice days and even though they live only a short distance away. It’s seen in the parent who waits for the school bus in the morning with the child after the child becomes capable of getting on the bus alone. Parents who drive their child to the school bus stop and wait in the warm car with them until the bus arrives are over-parenting. They may bring a special
lunch to school for their child, because he does not like the lunch being served that day. By today’s standards, these examples may not seem outside of the norm, but there is more to over-parenting than such excessive indulgence.
Parents who over-parent make all the decisions for their children. They may not be allowed to dress themselves, choose their own friends, or have any spare time for playing or daydreaming. Chances are that these children’s lives outside of school will be programmed down to the minute by their parents.
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. One reason may simply be that the children might not like sitting down and being quiet. Over-parenters believe their children must be constantly indulged in order to grow up to be happy people.
Over-parenting is seen when parents solve their children’s problems rather than giving them a chance to overcome the problems themselves. It occurs when parents allow their children to avoid legitimately challenging situations so 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 increasingly seen 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 experienced a death or other 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, and hides behind his parents when a 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 unhappiness or inconvenience 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.
How to kick 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 you 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 at 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 the 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 to get himself up in the morning without your assistance. When a new behavior becomes normalized, go on to another area to withdraw your over-parenting.
When your child is faced with a challenge, help him with 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. If your child finds this hard to handle and nags for more spending money or possessions, make it clear that the money you earn belongs to you, and that you will decide 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 spending money, give your child jobs to do. No matter how much he complains, doing chores will give your child a sense of empowerment, know-how 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 challenges 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 really 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.
Learning to build self confidence in children is not easy. It can be tough to walk the balance between fostering 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.