How NOT to Be an Overprotective Parent

Overindulging our children works to their detriment. Learn why—and how—to set limits for your preteen.

How NOT to Be an Overprotective Parent

Maria began playing soccer in the summer when she was seven years old. She got a little better each year, and her parents relished her successes. Every August, Maria sat on the edge of her seat at the end-of-season banquet, hoping to take home one of the trophies awarded to the MVPs. Every year, she was disappointed. The summer after sixth grade, Maria played her best soccer ever, and scored several goals. She was sure she’d finally be awarded a trophy that year—and was inconsolable when she wasn’t.

Her mother, concerned because her daughter was so upset, pulled the coach aside and pleaded, “Can’t you hand out more trophies? My daughter’s so disappointed.”

Building Character

Harvard psychologist Dan Kindlon would call the mother’s reaction classic overprotection. All parents want the best for their children, says Kindlon, in Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age. But many parents are too indulgent—they don’t require their kids to do chores, they buy them too many toys, they do everything they can to protect them from disappointment.

“What we want for our children is a perfect life, devoid of hardship and pain,” Kindlon says. “But their happiness as adults is largely dependent on the tools we give them, tools that will allow them to develop emotional maturityto be honest with themselves, to take initiative, to delay gratification, to learn from failure, to accept their flaws, and to face the consequences when they’ve done something wrong.”

Maria is the only child of older parents. Could this explain their behavior? “If parents indulge their kids because they feel they’re so precious,” says Kindlon, “that inclination is even greater for adoptive parents, many of whom have passed through long years of infertility.”

Under pressure from parents who want them to be achievers, many children grow up valuing success more than the experiences that build character. As a result, indulged children become indulged teenagers, prone to depression, anxiety, and self-absorption.

Setting Limits

How can parents overcome the tendency to overindulge? “By setting limits,” says Kindlon.

  • Set rules. Make sure you operate by a set of rules—regular bedtimes, required homework completion, a curfew.
  • Be consistent. Once you state the rules, enforce them.
  • Apply consequences. Children must know that actions have consequences, such as being grounded or being required to do extra chores (an option Kindlon prefers).

A set of firm house rules combined with those constants of good parenting—time and caring—can make all the difference. The result will be children who become the strong, resilient adults we know they can be.


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