Protective parents watch their toddlers; overprotective parents insist on going down the slide with them.

Can Overprotective Parenting Inhibit a Toddler's Development?

by Jennifer Zimmerman

Overprotective parenting is also known as "helicopter parenting," meaning that parents constantly hover around their children, removing obstacles from their paths and anticipating their every move. While it's easy to tell that a parent who does his child's homework for him or arranges his college student's class schedule is overprotective and inhibiting the child's development, it's not as easy to tell with young children. Toddlers, whose natural curiosity and inability to sense danger require a lot of supervision, need parents who can distinguish between being protective and being overprotective.

1. Security and Confidence

Toddlers who are secure and confident exhibit better behavior, suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics. Encourage security and confidence in your toddler by setting reasonable limits that allow him to explore and exercise his curiosity without getting into dangerous situations. A parent who brings her toddler to an age-appropriate playground and watches at a distance while the child explores is encouraging security and confidence. However, an overprotective parent, who follows the toddler onto the slide and lifts him up the steps, is inhibiting the development of confidence and security.

2. Motor Skills

Toddlers are developing many of their motor skills. Overprotective parents can prevent children from getting enough practice to develop these skills. For example, a parent who carries her 2-year-old everywhere isn't letting her improve her walking, running and stair climbing skills. A parent who still spoon-feeds her toddler baby food isn't letting the child develop the fine motor skills that she'll need later for drawing, writing and cutting. Besides, doing things for the toddler that he can do for himself diminishes his self-confidence and sense of reality, reports "The New York Times."

3. Independent Thinking

Of course, it can certainly seem like toddlers are full of confidence, especially when they emphatically yell "no!" to everything parents suggest. But what they are really describing with those yells is their desire for independence. The more you let them exert their independence in a safe manner, the less likely they are to try to exert it when over something non-negotiable, like riding in a car seat. Overprotective parents, who quickly suggest which toy to play with or which story to read next, don't let their children make choices. Being able to make choices allows toddlers to feel independent. By letting them make their own choices during play time, protective parents give toddlers a chance to exert independence in a positive way.

4. Appropriate Fear

Sometimes overprotective parents can actually injure their toddlers, reports the ABC News Medical Unit. One study cited found that, in a particular hospital, all of the tibia fractures that occurred on slides happened when the child was sitting on a parent's lap; this specific leg fracture never happened when children went down the slide by themselves. In addition to possible physical injury, having overprotective parents can actually lead to anxiety disorders down the road, states "Psychology Today." Parents who allow their children to deal with the stress of everyday life help them develop better coping strategies for the future.

About the Author

Jennifer Zimmerman is a former preschool and elementary teacher who has been writing professionally since 2007. She has written numerous articles for The Bump, Band Back Together, Prefab and other websites, and has edited scripts and reports for DWJ Television and Inversion Productions. She is a graduate of Boston University and Lewis and Clark College.

Photo Credits

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