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Children wrapped up in cotton wool - overprotected or well looked after?

In most cases, parents are dumbfounded; they do not understand what they did wrong. And really, they can’t understand, because hardly anyone knows about these dangers. It is called: the child overprotected. But isn’t it a good thing to look a little better after your offspring? No, is the very clear answer of psychologists.

Whether a child is neglected or overprotected, both of which can result in significant developmental problems and a lot of difficulties during adulthood.

From good and proud parents

Parents try harder than ever before to bring their kids up the best way they know, yet the number of mentally ill children continues to increase. They do everything for their children, are always there and help wherever they can. And yet, that's the very problem. These children will not learn to deal with challenges and problems on their own if parents do it all for them. It starts with the little things: carrying your child’s school bag, picking them up from school every day or carry the little ones over to their toys, the list is never-ending. They (parents) talk to the teachers, put pressure on them and even get consultations with the deans at universities. That's way too much of a good thing. As a matter of fact, in many cases that can get so out of hand, that it becomes downright patronizing. In particular to young people. The parent’s intention to help is always a good one, yet, in many cases way too much. This is not the way to bring up healthy, independent children. Those children, as described above have much fewer answers to solve problems than their peers, who experienced more freedom of development while growing up.

Increasingly the parent’s pride leads to difficulties. Since children are raised to fulfil a certain status symbols, such as "My house, my car, my child". They are seen as a personal project, and when things are not going as planned, it is this kind of parents, which will interfere. Parents want to experience themselves as competent, in raising happy and successful children. Then, when children don’t fit the ideal picture, parents are often offended in their self-pride. They try to motivate their children to fulfil their own goals, often their own dreams and hopes they abandoned for one reason or the other. Yet, that is actually their children’s downfall. To grow into a healthy successful adult, children need the freedom to develop to their own accord.

Praise, criticism and the dangers of the world

Many young children of today are even deprived of compassion because their parents hide their own bad feelings. They do not want to show vulnerability in front of their children. What those parents forget is, how is a child supposed to deal with those issues later in life if they were never confronted with it before? How can a child build empathy when it was never asked to be sympathetic towards their own parents? They can only grow into a compassionate people if they have learned what compassion is. Hiding your own feelings from your child means you are teaching your child to be numb. The alleged protection, in fact, causes quite some damage.

In addition, the children are sometimes showered with praise and blame. Look out, you can’t do that yet, that's too dangerous, those are typical statements of quite some parents. On the other hand, the child receives praise for the slightest thing it did right . Later in life there is, all of a sudden, no one anymore to protect the child, and praise is very hard to come by. The consequence, therefore, is, later in life those children will need a great deal of praises which they are unlikely to receive. They need colleagues to reassure them and friends who are always here to help. The reality is, most likely; they are getting very little of the desired praise. They are getting unhappy, frustrated and sometimes depressed. It has been proven, way beyond doubt that overprotected children are unhappier in life than those who were allowed to find their own solutions to problems.

Parents want to protect their children from the many dangers in the world, and that, of course, is a good thing. If we are dealing with power points, crossing the street or sharp objects, it is inevitable to protect children. Your protection must be reasonable to the child’s age. When it comes to personal development, protecting the child quickly can become overwhelming. As soon as parents start to scheme in behalf of the child, such as urging them to aim for a higher school, bombard them with rules and regulations then they are infringing on the child’s right to develop to its own accord, robbing it, so to speak, of the chance of leading an independent life.

A new world, a place of competition

When starting school it is the teachers’ task to teach those first graders, this is not a place for 30 kings and queens . The challenge for teachers is, to convey a normal self-image and put their feet firmly back on the ground. With the beginning of school, the child leaves the centre stage of attention. There is no cheerleader anymore and no individual support. At this point, it dawns on the child, at school it has to look after itself. Here they are, suddenly, on their own and that without preparation. Right from the beginning, school can be a critical experience for children.

This is where the pressure to compete usually starts as well. Children are encouraged to think in a competitive manner. Parents might ask questions such as, which grades did other students receive in their maths test and so forth. Children are continuously forced into comparison. Even some sports clubs took up this issue and came up with rules for parents. For example, they are no longer allowed to come closer the one meter to the sidelines. With their motivation often also comes competitive advice to their children they are putting the same under quite some pressure. Some of those parents don’t even shy away from insulting the referee if they disagree with his decision. Obviously, that’s taking matters too far. If you add, that maybe things are a little tense at home as well, everything only can get worse. – For the child and the parents alike.

The child, instead a partner

Another big problem is that children in some families are used as a replacement partner. Relationship problems cause educational problems and education problems cause relationship problems. The more an adult focuses on his role as a mother of father, the more he ceases to be a partner. It is not uncommon, that, as soon as the adult relationship starts to falter, the child moves more into the focal point. This is bad for the child as well as the parents. Those are the parents who fall into a deep hole as soon as the children grow up, become independent and move out. It is, in particular, single parents, whose entire life was focused on the child who struggle the hardest. They cling to their children and prefer to never letting them go. In Italy, this problem was recognised, and efforts are made to get children out of this dependency. Parents who agree not to support their 25-35-year-old children are granted a cash award.

Conclusion: More freedom and fewer rules

The solution to the problem is simple: more freedom and fewer rules. Children have to learn independence, to build a healthy resilience, and resistance. However, they can only learn that if their parents don’t pick them up at every turn and teach them how find their own feet again. Children need to accept conflict. It is not on to give them everything they want. In extreme cases even before the child has formulated a certain want. They need to learn, if they want something, they also have to do something for it. In one or the other way, the child has to “work” for what it wants. This, of course, needs to start in an appropriate age. But a little too early is always better than too late. They must learn that their parents cannot always be there for them and that they are responsible for themselves. The rule of the thumb is, to encourage children to make their own decisions as early as possible.

Overprotected children and their parents - what does that mean in terms of youth work?

It is almost expected that we will meet overprotected children in the youth group. With them come all the parents who worry about each and everything we do in our groups and when out on holiday camps. These are the parents, who might not send their children to the youth group because it is raining or are too worried to let them come along to a 5-day camp.

To learn self-confidence
To learn self-confidence | ©:

However, overprotected children are a challenge. They often lack self-confidence, resilience and self-reliance. If such a child, all of a sudden, has to peel potatoes, cut carrots or help out in the kitchen while camping, it will become obvious to the youth worker as well as everybody else that this child never had to do any of those tasks. When it comes to various activities, like a night walk or a game in the dark, those are the children who are most likely inflicted with fear!

Those above described children got – so far – everything done by their parents. Their parents were always around, for each and everything. Every problem, which crept up, they solved for the child. The child never had a chance to deal with one or the other problem or to learn from his mistakes.

It is only natural, that parents are fond of their children and only want the best for them. Perhaps, some parents attach their own self-esteem to the success of their child. This only adds to the pressure the child is exposed to. However, this exerted pressure is –literally – sickening. As soon as the child is no longer a child but a young person he will rebel – quite openly. If, so far, it may just refused to do certain things, now he will call on a revolution! – So to speak! He will display a disinterest in school, career and education in general and a certain degree of neglect will become obvious. The young person doesn’t want anything anymore. He feels overwhelmed, feels he can’t do anything right to begin with – in other words he seems very unhappy and aggravated.

Whenever we take children on holiday camps, it is worthwhile keeping all those things in mind. Only then we can help these children and young people to gain self-confidence and independence. The important thing is no criticism, no excessive demands, but real help, support and encouragement whenever the child does something well. Does it really matter if the potatoes and carrots are peeled and cut differently every once in a while? Does it really matter if the child or teenager can’t do something as well as others? Is clumsy or shows fear now and then? What really counts is what the child has achieved; all the commendable stuff. Praise the child and encourage him.

It is important to offer the child a loving and serene environment without reprimands or criticism. To give him the necessary space to apply himself. This tactic helps those “cotton-wool-wrapped” children immensely. These children need so step down from the centre stage of attention, the constant observation and critical assessment. They need to be able to experience a place where they can make mistakes and learn from them.

[ © | 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work ] - 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work
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