I think most of us can agree that each day with a toddler is like the wild, wild west. Sometimes it feels like you are just treading water and trying to survive your volatile, sticky-fingered energizer bunny.
Some parents, especially those who stay at home, may go out of their way to structure the day with play dates, sensory bins, colorful storybooks, and all kinds of educational experiences. I am one of these parents and we do all the things because it just makes for a fun and easy-er day.
If you are a parent who spends a lot of time with your children, one major temptation to avoid is overparenting.
When you think about overparenting toddlers, oftentimes the word “helicopter parenting” comes to mind. I have seen this form of parenting more frequently as I am out and about with my son.
I can’t hold my opinion in any longer so take it or leave it, this post contains my thoughts about overparenting toddlers. Well children of all ages really but it seems to start as soon as you need to do more than just keep a child alive. Toddlerhood is the first time a new parent has to step up to the plate and well, “parent.”
I hope this will help inspire a different way of thinking and courage to step back and let your child stumble a bit.
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I am going start this off by making a big statement and just say it. Overparenting doesn’t work.
It doesn’t raise kinder children who are more adept to share. I doesn’t help children control their emotions better. Overparenting turns curious toddlers into stress buckets who can’t stand up to peer pressure as teenagers or execute tough decisions as adults.
Yes, there really are people out there that overparent. Could it be you?
I take my son everywhere with me. I do this because 1) I like him and 2) I really have no other choice because I am a military spouse and don’t have family around to help out a few days a week.
When I take him to play places or parks, my usually routine once we get there is to find a comfy bench and let him run free. He will go about his way meeting new friends, discovering interesting toys, and becoming oh-so deeply engrossed in his play. It is a joy to watch and quite a nice break from a day at home where I take a more active roll in entertaining him.
Sometimes as sit there, usually typing up another blog post, I will see moms who follow their toddlers around closely, not letting them stray further than an arms reach.
One morning, I watched a mother interfere with every single decision her child attempted to make. The little girl picked up a toy and her mother immediately grabbed it to show her how to play with it. The little girl took something from another kid and her mother loudly corrected her and gave the toy back without letting the two of them work it out.
The entire hour my son and I were at this play area I just sat and watched as this little girl got more and more frustrated, anxious, and misbehaved. It was painful to witness and I even started to feel a bit anxious as they wandered close to me.
This particular place was an indoor establishment that my son and I frequent on rainy days. I have now seen this same mom and daughter duo multiple times in the past year.
I am amazed at how often this little girl has uncontrollable loud outbursts compared to the other toddlers who play there.
Another thing I noticed is how scattered she plays. She never focuses on a toy for more than a few seconds before she throws it and is on to the next thing.
Another little boy suffers the same affliction, an overcareful father, who tries to ensure his son does everything just so properly as he plays with other children. As I watched this father interfere so many times, I wondered what he was so worried the boy would do?
I wanted to share these two stories because it solidified to me that giving toddlers space to explore and make decisions is imperative for positive development and sets the stage for better reasoning skills in the future.
Overparenting inhibits growth…
Our goal as parents are two-fold. We need to nurture a growing human body with a safe place to rest, quality nutrition, clean water, and a sanitary environment.
We need to nurture growing human minds by providing unconditional love, teaching life lessons, and being steady lighthouse for our kids while they navigate the world.
Have you ever taken an art class with all the necessary equipment sitting right in front of you but you have to wait until the instructor is done educating you to get started? I was always chomping at the bit to get to painting or moulding some clay. I honestly think that’s how kids feel about life. They just want to go, do, learn, and grow.
We can’t afford to stiffle them.
We can’t crush their joy with our endless rules and proper ways of doing things.
We have to let them be free to learn things on their own and this starts in toddlerhood.
There is only one way I know of to get better at anything in life, whether it be learning a new skill or how to understand what is socially appropriate. By practice!
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for “pleases and thank yous,” manners, and that good stuff. But you can teach this to children subtly through your own actions and gentle reminders.
Remember they are always watching us.
The beauty in childhood lies in their inexperience with the world and the way the respond to new situations.
Life is the best teacher and although we still have a responsibility to our children to help them navigate our culture, there is no need to dictate their every single move.
We need a world with deep thinkers, innovators, and leaders who aren’t afraid to walk down an unpaved path and tread through mirky waters. I don’t think any parent’s goal is to raise a robotic sheep but by overparenting, we are planting our little seeds in the “follower” soil.
Be Brave Momma, Let them fall.
Loving our children means we don’t want them to make the same mistakes we did. We want to shelter and protect them from our hardships and see them reach higher highs.
But I want to challenge anyone who things that protecting our children means we have to make all their decisions for them just because we are the adult.
Let me give you a concrete example on how this applies in real life.
My husband and I recently made a huge decision to join the tiny house movement and move into an RV. We thought about it for quite some time and pulled the trigger, financing not only a fifth wheel but also a dually to pull it.
I remember when I told my dad what we were doing. The look on his face was all I needed to know he thought it was a bad idea. Yet he said nothing and was right there supporting us when we needed to renovate our house to get it ready to become and Airbnb.
My mom was our greatest cheerleader, commending us for taking on such a project while raising a young family.
This adventure started July 24, 2018 when we made the decision and just a few days later, we were ripping out carpets, painting, and spending every spare moment working towards this goal.
April 6, 2019 we moved into our RV and a few days later our first guests checked in.
To make a long story short, we had a very full summer of short-term rental guests, lots of additional unforseen bills that came with owning a giant peice of equipment like an RV and diesel truck, and we are just plain EXHAUSTED.
Not only did the tiny lifestyle only last one summer, but we actually LOST money in this process.
I am telling this story here in this post because I think, deep down, my parents knew this wasn’t going to be our ticket to financial freedom or even a long-term lifestyle for us. Trying to do too many things when you have young children isn’t a good idea and they knew that. They have already gone through it x3!
Just because they knew something was likely a not-so-great idea didn’t mean they needed to scold us for doing so, or try to change our minds.
You see, the temptation to overparent never ends. So you might as well start practicing it now.
This past year may have cost my husband and I a lot of sleepless nights, a few cuts and bruises, and the opportunity loss of investing in the stock market for an easy 8%, but the lessons we learned will likely help us for the rest of our lives and shape many of our future financial and lifestyle decisions.
We will pass them on to our children over some beers around a campfire one day.
Thank you mom and dad for letting me fall.
What happens when you take a step back and pause…
I think people who overparent little kids don’t do it from a malicious place of enjoying the process of controlling another human.
It happens out of worry and fear.
So how do we break the cycle?
Let’s say for example, you feel the need to be right there helping your child interact with other kids because you are afraid if you don’t, your child will act inappropriately and other parents will judge you for that.
One of the best ways to stop yourself when you feel the urge to over parent is just to breathe. You have to take 3 big breaths and watch before you are allowed to act.
If there is ever doubt about the appropriate action you will know it with certainty after you pause for those three breaths.
Sometimes the temptation to overparent comes when you see others doing it and you think, well maybe that’s the way I should be with my child. I used to be guilty of this and found myself correcting and directing my toddler when every other parent in the room was doing it.
What I realized is that ultimately, I am responsible for MY child’s mental wellbeing. I want to raise an independent thinker who isn’t going to sit back being afraid to make a decision without consulting both parents and every friend on their favorite’s list.
When I find myself in situations where my parenting style doesn’t match those around me, oftentimes we just leave.
I’ve noticed my son closely watch these controlling parent-child interactions with a look of bewilderment on his face.
He has never experienced being controlled like that before and I am sure he finds it frightening.
Finding the balance so you don’t underparent…
If you have made it this far in this article, you might think I let my kid run unruly and wild through the streets. This is far from the case.
My son is one of the most kind, thoughtful children I have ever met.
He doesn’t get bothered by other children taking his toys and certainly doesn’t have prolonged periods anxiously screaming because he doesn’t know what to do with his emotions.
I attribute this not just to his laid back personality because he too is a normal kid with high energy, opinions, and wants to be a part of everything. I think his ability to keep his cool in a variety of sitations started with the way we handled temper tantrums as soon as they showed up. He now has the tools and support from his parents to move past misbehavior, and it takes little effort on my part now.
One way to avoid underparenting is to simply talk to your kids like they are an adults.
When I hear people baby-talking to children it is like nails on a chalkboard to me. They deserve more from us than “because I said so.”
Give them the explanation, even if it is more than once. Your explanation makes them feel included as a valuable member of the team. It does take a bit more effort but aren’t they worth it if it will bring them peace and help them learn?
Don’t get down on yourself for imperfection
I love writing parenting articles for my blog. I find that as I type out my ideas it solidifies the next steps I need to take on my own journey.
I am a far from perfect parent so I hope this article doesn’t come across my bragging at how laid back my parenting style is. We have had our fair share of difficult days.
My goals is to inspire you if you struggle with overparenting. It is possible to change your behavior once you realize you are doing something.
Everyone has the ability to grow up and accomplish great things but the impotence of this ability starts with a parent who is brave enough to let their kids become an expert wanderer in their day to day life.