Welcoming a new baby to this world means becoming responsible for every aspect of someone else’s life. This experience brings a variety of emotions into play. From now on, parenting means operating in these highly emotional circumstances, and we need to learn how to manage our reactions to what is happening with our child.
Our parenting strategies might be partially a conscious choice, but they are strongly influenced by who we are, what is our history and the context in which we are bringing up the children. For example: if we find ourselves overprotecting our children, we might realise that we just can’t help ourselves. We do it because it’s our emotional reaction to an anticipated threat. To see our children struggling seems unbearable. The obvious reason for trying to clear all the obstacles from our children’s path is that we want the best for them. The underlying dynamic might be more complex though. We might also be over protective in areas where we ourselves had hard times as children, or we might have strong need for controlling the world around us (and the children within it) to manage our anxiety and make life as predictable as possible.
For complex emotional reasons our good intentions to help our children, sometimes become the source of control and turns out to be not so helpful.
Experiment and protection
Finding the balance between providing enough space for our children to explore, take risks, learn and develop and to offer the appropriate protection of our children isn’t an easy task. It means that we need to sometimes act against our own anxieties and instincts. A simple example is learning how to climb stairs that involves the risk of falling down and we need to find a right moment and safe way to let our children practice this skill. If we overprotect our children and they don’t learn, they will be at a greater risk later in childhood, when they attempt this feat without any of the skills necessary. They will also internalise their parents anxiety about risk taking with many other consequences.
This also applies to letting our children to experience frustration and defeat, so they can learn how to deal with life challenges in the future and find their own solutions to overcoming problems. It’s a very empowering experience which builds child’s confidence in the world.
Finally, it’s also about the boundaries within which children can explore the world, test new things and draw their own lessons and conclusions. There are some things which are clearly too dangerous to try or explore, or learn from making mistakes. There are some things which are not socially accepted or experiments which go beyond our limits.The example from adolescent age might be the use of hard drugs – we don’t want our children to experiment with such a risk and we expect them to use their reasoning instead of practically testing dangerous things. In these cases children need to hear our strong and firm voice which allows both parents and children stay in touch with the reality principle and remain safe.
There are three key questions we can ask ourselves that may help deal with these difficult issues:
Is it age appropriate?
Knowing your child, and the context in which he/she is growing up – you can asses what does it mean age appropriate frustration. Does it mean let the 2 year old try and put their shoes on? Is it allowing 13 year old to go to school unprepared and face consequences? Is it expecting 4 year old to wait when it is needed?
Is your initial reaction and judgement more about the child’s welfare or about your own emotions?
When seeing your child struggling with something: what is your emotional experience? Does it bring any memories of you as a child in similar circumstances? What was your parents reaction to you experiencing frustration and trying new things?
If you were observing another parent behaves towards their child as you do towards yours, would you think they are:
a) overprotective, b) taking too many risks, c) acting with care and thoughtfulness in the child’s best interest?
This third person perspective may help you to decide what would you like to do differently.
First published on: herfamily.ie