Signs you’re Suffocating your Child

Are you giving your children enough space to grow?

We’ve all heard of helicopter parents. The story goes that a college student goes into a job interview, and their parent calls the next day to negotiate pay, it is at this point that the interviewer realizes that the student didn’t even apply for the job, their parent did. The parent wrote the resume, the parent sent in the application, and now the parent wants to be in control of the offer if there was going to be one. Almost anyone can see that it would be inappropriate for a parent to do something like this for their college-age son or daughter, but few realize that nobody gets to this point randomly one day. Being a hovering or smothering parent starts early, innocently enough, and just gets worse over time. Learning to notice the signs early can nip the problem in the bud and save your child a lot of pain and heartache in their adult life. How can you tell when you’re going too far?

The consequences of suffocating your child emotionally can be hard to see in real time, but as they grow up the signs are there in bold letters if you know where to look. A child who grows up emotionally smothered will lack self-confidence, have trouble in relationships, and may even be unable to do all the things we expect of adults when they grow up.

Your child is withdrawing from you

A child who feels that they cannot safely express emotions without you taking over will just quit trying to talk to you. Be supportive instead of reactive. Making every bad day into a big production is a great way to get your child to just give up on trusting you to handle their hearts.

Your job is not to fix, it’s to support. Sometimes your child will have consequences for their actions and they may be unhappy about that, but if you go storming into the principal’s office over everything that happens, your child will either learn that they can do whatever they want, or that they can’t trust you or themselves.

Your child isn’t free to explore

Being a parent is often about managing expectations, making sure that you are not asking more of your child than they are developmentally able to offer is just as important as making sure you’re not getting in the way of their explorations.

If you never let your child climb a tree, play tag with the new kids at the park, or just have some unstructured play time you’re really limiting their ability to learn self-confidence, critical thinking and how to make and keep friends.

It’s definitely normal to be anxious when your child is trying something new, especially if they can get hurt doing it, but it’s important to manage your own feelings in a way that you’re not passing on anxiety to your child.

Kids get hurt, and while we wish it didn’t happen it definitely will. Try to remain calm by realizing that not all injuries are created equally. A skinned knee or a possible bruise isn’t the end of the world. There’s a line between safety and overbearing, try to stay on the good side of it.

Base level interactions with others require your help

It’s normal to be shy or wary of strangers at a young age, but at some point, we all have to learn how to ask where the restroom is. It may seem easier to ask for them than to deal with them being uncomfortable or even anxious, but it doesn’t benefit them at all for you to do this every time. Model, role-play, even advise, but eventually, they’re going to have to do it alone. Help them transition into advocating for themselves by showing them how. Do a quick practice run of ordering a hot dog at the bowling alley before you send them to do it. Even though it’s tempting don’t give in and do it yourself.

Your child is unable to handle even basic social snafus without your help

It’s one thing to offer support and guidance, it’s quite another to take over the situation. Make sure that you’re giving your child space to navigate unsure social situations without your help or advice, but be ready to step in if they aren’t being successful after a few tries on their own, and even then just advise.

Children’s social lives are just as complicated as ours are as adults. There are unwritten rules. While it may be quicker to go talk to the bully’s parent, the consequences for your child may not be what you intended. Obviously, if things are out of hand or your child is starting to show signs of extreme stress you’ll have to step in, but don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good in more social interactions.

If you’re noticing these signs it’s definitely time to step back and restructure your relationship. Learning to set and keep boundaries can be one step forward and two steps back, but you’ll eventually get there if you keep trying. Having a discussion about your new plans to give your child more freedom. Expect that they might not be keen on this idea, but reassure them that you’re going to go in phases and not all at once. It will be better in the long run for both of you to have these new boundaries.

Some of you may be reading this article and seeing a lot of yourself as a child or an adult in the warning signs, lots of people grew up this way and have lasting issues due to it. The good news is with some therapy and introspection you can work your own way out of it. Don’t hesitate to get help if you need it, there’s no shame in advocating for yourself. Everyone has their own struggles in life, and if you can recognize the root of yours you’re already more than half way to overcoming them.