It’s a vague memory, but I remember that I used to be a fun-loving single girl— someone who couldn’t be bothered to use hand sanitizer before devouring a chicken drumstick. Yes, I lived dangerously: I went out at night without a mosquito patch, ate instant noodles for breakfast, and didn’t assiduously check expiration dates printed at the bottom of the peanut-butter jar.
And then I had Zac. Suddenly, the world became so much more menacing. TV/movie marathons? That’s a hotbed of radiation activity right there. A day spent at a beautiful beach? Babies have been known to drown in one foot of water. A leisurely stroll in the mall? Malls are enclosed spaces where viruses thrive and ping pong off one child to another. It’s a kidnapper’s lair, not to mention a temple of materialism that sends the wrong message to our children.
Melissa Pizaña Cruz, a certified integrative coach and co-head of the parenting cluster for the Center for Family Ministries (CeFam), notes that hover parents like me are not uncommon. “In fact, there are now coined terms for this phenomenon such as ‘umbrella parenting,’ ‘bubblewrap parenting,’ and ‘over-parenting,’” she says. “You will know if the worry has ceased to be the healthy kind when you can no longer function ‘normally’ as a parent, and every decision you make revolves around fear. By then, it has become paranoia.”
While it’s fine to be hawk-eyed, growing up with an eternally worried mom translates to eternally worried children—and you don’t want a kid too fearful to live his life. So how do you strike a balance? How do you tell your kid to be wary of strangers, yet teach him to be friendly? How do you warn a three-year-old of danger, but not rob him of his sweet innocence?
“Impending dangers can vary from situation to situation,” acknowledges Cruz. “What you should do is practice risk management; try to manage those situations that are likely to occur and can have severe consequences. Take note of which impending dangers you should warn your child about, and choose these.”
Proceed with caution Cruz stresses that you should not give your kids a lowdown on each and every danger that may befall them, especially those that are unlikely to happen in their situation. For example, if you live in a bungalow, it doesn’t make sense to warn your child often about leaning too close to the railings and falling off a building. She adds, “The manner of communication must be age-appropriate as well, and parents should warn the child only about those things the tot has control over (e.g. don’t talk to strangers) — other controls must be instituted by the parents or the caregivers. For example, if you want to warn a toddler about strangers touching her private parts, a simple strategy would be to show her a bathing suit and say, “This bathing suit covers your private parts. Anytime a stranger (or even a friend) touches anything that the suit covers, you must tell Mom or Dad.”
Our worries, no matter how ridiculous they may seem to others, are always valid and important. While one mom worries about kidnapping, another worries about the food her child eats. In her book The Go-To Mom’s Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children, author Kimberly Blaine says, “A parent’s tendency to overprotect and shield a child from the world may be a way of regaining control that one lost in his past.”