I was speaking with an anxious parent recently about her anxious son.
It reminded me of the phenomena known as ‘dependency conflict.’
‘Dependency Conflict’ is quite common in Western cultures where parents simultaneous push their children to be independent yet at the same time judge, evaluate, hover & intervene – constantly sending exactly the opposite message!
It ties the child to the parent because the parent is actually the person controlling the child.
For example, a Mum says ‘go off, have fun and play’ but when the child gets only a few feet away calls out ‘I’m just here if you need me. I’m watching. Don’t worry. I’m not far away’
So a child learns to constantly check in with the parent, constantly looking for reassurance or acknowledgement that what they are doing is safe, OK, acceptable or not dangerous.
This creates children who are taught to not trust their own judgement whether it is in exploring a new environment, taking a risk with their bodies in balancing or climbing or handling relationships with other children.
The secret is to find the balance between autonomy, independence, risk taking & safety.
I wrote many articles for Danone as a Consultant on their ‘Autonomy’ project for families around finding balance a few years ago.
The question to ‘Pause to Ponder’ is:
Is it your job to protect & control or is it your job to develop their self control, self awareness & independence – trusting themselves to make decisions for themselves?
Long term do you want to create a child scared of making decisions, making mistakes & looking to others for acknowledgement about everything they do or say?
Do you want to create an uncertain adult?
Nothing in life is without risk and, of course, we have a duty of care to protect, nurture & care for our children but I just wonder if by ‘over protecting’ them we rob them of a ‘Can Do’ kid attitude that will impact on their attitude to life long term – making them more dependent, more anxious, more stressed & less resilient.
Studies have shown that there’s an evolutionary reason why kids are drawn to take risks. It exposes them to physical challenges & ‘habituates’ them to their fears. So children get used to managing their fears a little at a time.
That’s good for them.
So a good couple of questions to ask yourself is:
‘How can I reframe my attitude to healthy risk taking in my kids?
‘Am I creating more problems long term by my ‘surplus safety’ attitude?
If we rob our children of risk we get in the way of their confidence & self esteem by sending them the message ‘I don’t think you’re capable or competent’
We deny them a ‘iCan’ attitude.
Ellen Hansen Sandster a psychologist at Queen Maud University in Norway says:
‘Allowing children to handle risks on their own with their bodies, their own minds, and through their own assessment & courage, is the most important safety protection you can give a child.’
Are you raising an independent child who’s really dependent on you?
Is that what you really want for them ?
How can you step back more this week & find that sense of balance, proportion, perspective & reasonableness?
Let me know I’d love to hear your stories.