"If only I could bubble-wrap my child!" It's a nice thought, especially for parents of toddlers who bump and run all day long, or for those with older daredevils on their hands. And how about our shy guys and girls, the ones we as parents just want to wrap up in protective hugs, to reassure often? Deep down we all know that the only way our kids will grow into their own is by exploring the world, but that doesn't mean doing so is always easy. How - and when, and how much - should we let go?
"If you are brave enough to know your children for who they are as individuals, then you'll know what situations you can trust them with and which situations you should be a little more careful entrusting them with," advises Sue Lee, principal of CCB School of Douglaston in Queens. "Letting your loved ones go is probably one of the hardest things in the world to accomplish," she adds.
To help you along the way, we asked local experts:
How can I avoid being overprotective of my child?
"How do I know if I am being overprotective of my child? How do I not put my fears onto my children? I think this question is one that every parent or caregiver struggles with. Most find it very difficult to balance the desire to let their children be more independent with their adult knowledge of how the world can be. As a parent you are aware of the risks that lie ahead for your child on a daily basis. We are inundated with stories of violence through the media as well as through personal stories of family members or friends.
Although it is imperative to openly discuss with your children safety precautions, there are times when a parent's fear of the unknown can interfere with a child's emotional health. For example, your child comes home from school and has been invited over to a classmate's house for a play date. You have never met this child's parents. Your child is begging you to go because he really thinks this friend is great. What are you to do? I believe the best way to handle a difficult situation like this is through careful balancing of your child's desire to gain independence with your fear for their safety in this unknown situation.
First, you would want to comment on how great it was that your child was invited to this classmate's house. Allow your child to tell you about his friend and why he wants to spend some time outside of school with him. It is important that your child feels that his choice in friends is respected within the home. This is validating his independence in navigating the social environment (which we all know can be a very difficult task!).
From there, you would want to use your own reservations or fear in a constructive way. It would be good to open up a discussion with your child about the safety concerns you see for him going to a home when you have not met the adults who are in charge. At this point, a great way to balance both of your needs would be to agree upon the steps to making this a possibility-perhaps contacting the parent of the other child, meeting for a play date where both parents can be present, or something else. And then, based on your impression of those scenarios, letting your child go to the house alone.
The challenge lies in always balancing your children's need for growth and independence and your need to protect and guide them."
-Brittany W. Kelley, LCSW, LLC, Bethel
"Children learn best by playing and exploring without being told what to do and how to do it every step of the way. The best childhood lessons are learned from falling down, trying and not succeeding immediately. When parents are constantly correcting and jumping in, they are sending a strong message that the child is not capable, that others cannot be trusted, and that the world is a frightening place. Children need to learn to negotiate on their own, and to solve problems with the help of others-including their peers and teachers, not always the parents.
Parents should encourage children to engage in activities they may not necessarily be good at right away, to enjoy the process and the learning. In order for children to grow, they must fall down, make mistakes, have defeats, and have confidence in their own ability to 'get back on their feet.'"
-Jodi Levine, owner, Jodi's Gym, Mt. Kisco
Also see: More advice from New York metro area experts for overprotective parents
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