Excessive control of junior’s behaviour and attitudes actually hurts them, so it may be time to loosen your parental reins.

As stay-at-home mum Claire Tan was packing her firstborn’s schoolbag, she counted the colour pencils in his pencil case.

When she found 10 instead of 12, she glared at 7-year-old Declan and demanded, “How can you keep losing them? I labelled each pencil with your name and class!”

Indeed, before her son entered Primary 1, Tan had painstakingly labelled all his belongings, from his water bottle and stationery, right down to his shoes and socks, so that he wouldn’t lose anything.

She recalls, “During Primary 1 orientation, the school told us, if your son forgets to bring a textbook to school and he calls you to bring it for him, please don’t.”

It made her think and realise that she would have rushed to her son’s rescue and brought him the book had such a situation had arisen.

Nor is Tan alone. She found that many others parents do the same for their kids from the parents’ WhatsApp chat groups she belongs to. They not only pack their school bags for them every night, they even become school parent volunteers “just so they could make sure their child ate during recess”.

“Children need early opportunities to develop as an individual. It’s through trial and error, ‘failing’ and ‘not failing’ that leads to them learning about who they are and what they want.”

“I think at some point, I must have realised that I was weighing down my son’s development in this regard. I needed him to learn to be responsible on his own.”

You can guide your child on the right path, especially if they are embarking on a new adventure, like Primary school, for example. But it will start to affect your child negatively when you hover too much and don’t gradually let go.

Frances Yeo, a psychologist at Thomson Paediatric Centre, explains, “Children need early opportunities to develop as an individual. It’s through trial and error, ‘failing’ and ‘not failing’ that leads to them learning about who they are and what they want.”

Why it’s so hard to let go

Many parents who can’t let go are afraid that if they do, the child may not achieve the outcome that they want.

Yeo notes, “Some parents had quit their successful careers to become a stay-home-mum. They’ve shared with me that since they had quit their jobs to look after kids, they must get the maximum return in raising the child.”

The rationale is that if they put in a lot of effort (like they did in their careers), they would get what they wanted.

“But this is different. In raising kids, we can’t control what another person thinks, does and feels,” says Yeo.

 

The consequences of not letting go

You might have good intentions managing your child’s every move, but this can easily backfire.

Being overly protective of your child and acting in extreme ways brings to mind the term “helicopter parent” one who constantly hovers over their child, swooping in immediately to rescue them at the first sign of any trouble.

However, helicopter parenting has negative effects that can have a lasting impact on junior’s development.

Yeo notes, “Your child may eventually suffer from poor self-esteem and confidence, start doubting oneself, and be unable to cope with stressful events.”

In addition, they may even be “at risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis, or cause deliberate self-harm”.

Let your child discover themselves their strengths and weaknesses, what it’s like to succeed and what it’s like to fail.

Why letting go is so important

Yeo cites four reasons why it’s important to allow your child to explore the world around them, and perhaps make some mistakes. Your child will:

* Accept their feelings They will learn to acknowledge and accept feelings like excitement and happiness, or anger and disappointment.

* Not doubt themselves This will form the foundation for children to learn to be self-reliant and confident.

* Solve problems They will learn the social skills necessary to solve problems on their own.

* Deal with stress They will learn to deal with frustrations and how to cope with it, and develop good stress tolerance.

Tips for parents

So, what should the role of parents be?

Using the analogy of a child learning to walk, Yeo advises, “Each time they fall down, the parent picks them up and encourages them to take their next steps.”

So, let your child do tasks on their own. Every time they fail, be there to listen and help them understand and validate any bad feelings.

Encourage them to find ways to solve the problem. If they fall again, repeat the steps of listening and encouraging them to find ways to solve the problem,” Yeo explains.

She also cautions against being too quick to “make good” or solve problems.  “I find that many parents find it difficult listening to their children when they talk about a bad feeling, negative or strong feelings. They are quick to want to solve the problem by denying or dismissing it.”

Let your child discover themselves their strengths and weaknesses, what it’s like to succeed and what it’s like to fail.

“It’s about trial and error, allowing them to try and fail,” Yeo sums up.

Photos: iStock

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