Wanting to protect your children is an innate and biological urge for all parents. It is essential in keeping your child emotionally and physically safe in a dangerous world. However, when parents become overprotective, the child is more likely to develop anxiety or an anxiety disorder when older. This is especially true for children who have an anxious temperament.
All children are born with a basic framework for a future personality, called temperament. This is genetically determined but can be molded by parenting. For example, a baby may be born with a propensity for being overstimulated but with proper parenting, the infant may not be fearful of unfamiliar situations in childhood.
Infants who are highly reactive are already at a higher risk for developing anxiety disorders. High reactive infants generally do not engage readily in unfamiliar situations and display overall avoidance.These babies are more likely to cry in response to unfamiliarity and cease their activity if a situation changes, for example a new person enters the room. Most of all, these infants experience and express distress when faced with unfamiliar situations, people and objects.
These infants experience stress in situations that most others would find non-threatening. Unfortunately, overprotective parents try to shield their children from these situations, which can exacerbate the problem. Overprotection by keeping the child in only familiar surroundings prevents the child from learning how to cope with stress in a healthy manner. In addition, overprotective parents usually have anxious tendencies which is transferred onto the child making him even more trepid of new situations. These children are more likely to grow up into teens and adults who experience anxiety symptoms if not develop a full anxiety disorder.
Despite the pull to be more overprotective of a child who seems to feel distressed easily, parents should be more aware of what message they are passing on to their children by being overprotective. Instead, parents should focus on helping the child build resilience and learn healthy stress coping techniques even if the child is as young as a toddler. Examples of resilience building parenting include:
Teaching the child how to self-soothe
Encourage the child to try something new
Reassure the child that not being successful is acceptable
Show the child that disappointment is natural and can be overcome
Give genuine positive feedback for effort even if unsuccessful, but avoid false praise
Most importantly, parents must model low anxiety, high resilience behavior as watching others is how children learn best. Show how you overcome mistakes by laughing at yourself or moving on. Children, especially ones with a propensity toward anxious behavior, need to see their parents not become overly upset when things don’t go as expected. Demonstrate how to improve next time or how to find a better solution to the disappointing situation. This will help the child grow up with high self-confidence which is necessary to protect against many emotional health problems throughout their lifetime.
Children are born with a genetically predetermined set of characteristics. However, their future is not set in stone because of it. Parenting and life experiences can still significantly shape the child to be the best he/she can be.
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