Three Reasons to Give Up on Overprotective Parenting

child in swing

One of the greatest challenges of parenting is standing back and watching as your child makes a mistake.  It doesn’t even matter how big the mistake is.  It might be jumping from the couch to the hardwood floor while wearing the most slippery socks ever sewn or blowing off an important study session for a final exam worth 60% of the final grade.  Either way, it’s hard to watch.

From the moment we bring children into this world, we feel the urge to protect them.  They start out so small and helpless; they need us for every little thing.  But then they begin to grow, and it’s our job to instill a sense of autonomy in our children.  We have to let them go.

Psychologists often reference “authoritative parenting” as an effective parenting style.  Authoritative parents are responsive to their children but have high expectations.  They also rely on structure and boundaries while respecting autonomy.  In short, they show their children the way, but they let their children make mistakes.

In contrast, permissive parents fail to provide structure and/or boundaries, and authoritarian parents micromanage every detail of their children’s lives.

And this is where overprotective parenting comes in.

In world full of violence and kids growing up way too fast, it’s comes as no surprise that parents want to protect their kids as much as possible.  But the truth is that we can’t protect them from everything.  And if we try to, we can actually cause more harm than good. 

{ MORE: Living in an Era of Disrespect: Are We Raising Our Kids the Right Way? }

Three reasons to lay off the overprotective parenting:

It sends a negative message.

I’ve seen the same scene play out over and over again over the years:  A toddler sits with a pile of blocks, attempting to build a tower.  He stacks seven blocks and then tower begins to wobble.  When the tower falls, the toddler cries.  And the parent swoops in the build the best, strongest tower ever to avoid future tears about tumbling towers.

When you run in and fix the problem or somehow make it better, be it a tower of blocks or an English paper, you send the wrong message.  What your child hears is, “Yours wasn’t good enough, mine is better.”

It is our job as parents to guide our children, not to do everything for them.  Should we offer suggestions for problem solving?  Absolutely!  But should we do the problem solving for them?  Not a chance.  Kids need to learn that they are capable and that they can find solutions along the way.  When you step back a little, you empower them.

It creates anxiety and avoidance.

If we do everything for our children, especially the hard things, we teach them to avoid challenges.  If we excuse them from things that are just out of their comfort zone every single time a fear arises, we teach them to run from things that feel scary. 

We should be teaching them to work through their challenges.  We should provide unconditional love and support and talk them through their fears and worries. 


In the case of a child who avoids social situations, for example, a parent should role play social interactions first, then take the child to the park to observe other kids, then help the child talk to another child, and then step back and let the child ease into it independently.  Parents need to model and teach – not take over.

They won’t learn to cope with failure.

Life isn’t always easy.  Bad things happen and people fail where they hoped to succeed.  Part of growing up is learning to cope with failure.

While it’s acceptable to throw a temper tantrum at age two, it’s really not acceptable at age twelve.  We need to teach our children how to cope with disappointment and failure, and part of teaching is stepping back and letting life happen.  And then, of course, being there to support them when they fail.

Parenting is a balancing act.  Provide the structure, offer suggestions, and care for their broken hearts, but don’t forget to let them climb impossibly large rock walls along the way… They will thank you for it later. 

{ MORE: 3 Reasons to Say 'No' to No }

Would you consider yourself an overprotective parent?  

What do you think?

Three Reasons to Give Up on Overprotective Parenting

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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  1. laciejay says:

    Children are very smart and can figure alot of things out on their own jus sit back and observe. If they need you, I feel you should give them a push not do it for them, they will not learn that way. If you are always there to fix the problem then they figure they wont ever need to fix it, they know you will do it for them. I will try my best not to be overprotective it s good to learn on your own.

  2. Rozlyn says:

    My mother was hard on me growing up…and I turned out to be driven and motivated. So…I am hoping that I can be the best parent that I can be when my baby is born…and not be super strict throughout her life! =

  3. MAMASEXXY says:


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