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The Tendency to Overprotect our Special Needs Kids

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  • Article summary:

    As parents of special needs children, we often develop coping strategies to deal with our child’s behaviors. One strategy is the tendency to be overprotective.

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The Tendency to Overprotect our Special Needs Kids

There’s an obvious reason for doing this. We want to be sure that our son or daughter is safe in an unkind and unpredictable world. People can be cruel, and life is difficult. The child with special needs seems ill-equipped to handle these realities. Therefore, we decide that he or she needs our constant protection. This reasoning makes overprotecting seem like a good thing.

However, there are other possible reasons why we might overprotect our kids. One of these might be that overprotecting can be a way to avoid our own parental pain and disappointment.

Avoiding Our Own Pain

What on earth am I talking about? Here’s an example: Let’s say we resist taking our child to public places, family parties, or social gatherings. We might reason that it’s for his own good. “He doesn’t do well with large groups,” we say. “It’s too stressful.” But maybe the truth is that it’s hard to see our child playing beside other children who don’t have disabilities. And it can be frustrating to be around other families who seem to have carefree, easy lives when ours seem so challenging. Perhaps we are trying to avoid the well-meaning “polite” comments from outsiders that seem so off-base.

Being Too Permissive

Another example of overprotecting is being too permissive, agreeable, and supportive, without making appropriate attempts to engage, and challenge our child. “I don’t want to upset her,” we say, “because she becomes unglued and can’t calm down.”

I’ve used this example previously, but the perfect illustration is the scene in the movie “The Miracle Worker,” where Helen Keller roams freely about the dining room, taking handfuls of food from other people’s plates, while the family members just sit and tolerate it. Are we doing this with our kids? Are we permitting inappropriate behaviour, because it’s just easier to deal with?

Are we afraid that our child might fail? Maybe he won’t be able to stay in his seat? Maybe she won’t be able to achieve a particular goal? Maybe he’s always going to be a social outcast?

Refusing to Challenge Our Kids

Even simple things like playtime can be influenced by the desire to overprotect. When we play with our children, it can be an effective way to teach, encourage language, promote cooperation and foster social skills. Yet when we overprotect our kids, we might sit back and allow them to do all the decision-making, without stepping in to occasionally stretch them. We don’t want to make things too difficult. So we let our son line up his cars, or our daughter stack blocks in the same fashion, day after day. It avoids outbursts, perhaps, but it doesn’t allow for growth.

Finding a Balance

As parents, when should we protect, and when should we allow for learning and growth? Much of it is left to our judgment. But it might help to examine our reasons for being so protective. Who are we really trying to protect? If some of the protecting might be for ourselves, perhaps we need to re-think, and gather up some inner strength.

Is your child really better off avoiding social gatherings, or might it be a terrific opportunity for him to practice being around others? Is your child truly unable to stop playing with her food, or could you begin working on table manners? Is your son really so unreasonable that you can’t challenge him occasionally?

Raising Expectations

With my son Kyle, any time we needed to make a major behavioral change, there were protests at first. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes his actions in public were downright embarrassing. But when I have trusted Kyle to meet my expectations, he almost always comes through, in his own roundabout way. I had to toughen up, and be willing to experience a little frustration. Raise your expectations for your child, and be careful that you are not using overprotection as a way to avoid pain and disappointment. Get tough! (You can DO it.) You wouldn’t want to limit your son or daughter needlessly.

This entry was posted in Parenting Techniques and tagged disability, disabled, families, overbearing, overprotective, pain, relationships, restrictive, smothering, special needs by Kristyn Crow. 

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