Pushing Boundaries and Taking Risks: A Two-way Street

     When you bring your baby home from the hospital, most parents have deep, instinctual urge to protect their child no matter what. As children progress from infancy to toddlerhood to preschool and beyond, each parent develops their own parenting style. Some are comfortable with their children exploring the world and trying new things with little parental involvement. Others, sometimes called “helicopter parents,” maintain a firm grasp on their children’s environment, friends and activities, keeping them from real or perceived harm and often hindering their ability to learn life management skills.
     While usually well intentioned, over involvement can delay your child’s ability to make good choices about how they interact with the world. When your child is overly dependent on you to guide their life, potential consequences may include poor decision-making skills and inability to advocate for themselves.
As an example, think about your preschooler deliberately throwing at toy at another child, hitting them in the face, and leaving a bruise. This is an opportunity to discuss better ways to handle frustration or anger, understand this behavior caused another to be injured, and teach your child age-appropriate consequences such as time out.
     Another area of concern for most parents is how to protect their child in the physical world. These decisions can cause a lot of anxiety as one considers things like the right age to climb to the top of the big slide at the toddler playground “on their own.” Or dangle from a low-hanging tree branch. For a helicopter parent, these moments of risk can be very challenging. If you find yourself swooping in to the rescue with climbing gear and a fluffy pillow, take a moment to think about what you’re doing.
     Is your child really in danger? Is your child pushing their limits and learning new things? What if your child climbs the steps to the “big” slide and realizes they aren’t ready for this adventure? This is decision-making in action and a positive moment of childhood development.
     As you read this, if you see a bit of helicopter parent in your style, what can you do to show your support without being overly involved? A few tips include:
  • Slowly begin to give your child moments of freedom, as appropriate. If your child is used to you controlling their activities and making decisions for them, it may take some time for them to feel comfortable branching out on their own.
  • When your child makes a good decision, acknowledge it and offer praise. Climbing back down the slide steps is an opportunity to show encouragement for the courage to try while also showing positive recognition of your child’s developing decision-making skills.
And certainly, while helping your child grow physically, intellectually, and socially is very important, as the parent or caregiver, your in-the-moment awareness of your child’s safety and needs is a cornerstone of effective parenting.
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