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Can Overprotective Parenting Inhibit a Toddler's Development?

by Beth Greenwood, studioD

Parents may be overprotective for a variety of reasons. A parent who has lost a child, experienced a serious injury or illness in a child, or who was raised by overprotective parents may do everything she can to ensure that her child remains safe. However, toddlers need to become independent of their parents and an overprotective parent can interfere with the normal progression from dependence to independence.

Normal Development

Normal toddler development, according to MedlinePlus, includes learning to walk, run, throw or kick a ball, jump in place and ride a tricycle. Toddlers also learn to build towers of blocks, scribble, feed themselves and drink from a cup. By the time a toddler is 3, she can usually name herself, animals and pictures of familiar items. She combines two words and may begin to create simple sentences. She may have temper tantrums, hold her breath, cry or shout “No!” when she cannot have her way or is frustrated.

Physical Development

Toddlers develop their balance by practicing walking. They may stagger or need to hang onto something, and will usually sit or fall down repeatedly in the course of mastering this skill. Overprotective parents can stifle physical development. A parent who carries her 3-year-old everywhere does not allow the child necessary exercise to strengthen arms and legs. Parents who feed a 2-year-old instead of letting her feed herself do not allow her to learn fine motor control, which is necessary for many activities such as writing, tying her shoes or fastening buttons.

Mastering Fear

Children are sensitive to their parents’ fears, according to Dr. Jessica Noonan of the ABC News Medical Unit. Noonan writes that the normal fears of a child such as being afraid of a high jungle gym or slide are adaptive -- they have a purpose, which is to keep the child from being injured. Taking risks by eventually confronting these fears, however, is how the child gains maturity and increases her physical skill level. Overprotective parents, says Noonan, can instill anxiety in their children by acting fearful when the child tries something that is even slightly risky. Overprotective parents who insist on sliding down a slide with their small children may actually increase the risk of fractures in the leg bone called the tibia, according to Noonan.

Helicopter Parents

Helicopter parents are those who are so overprotective that they constantly hover around their children, watching for and removing any obstacles, making the child’s decisions and trying to anticipate every move. Toddlers do need more protection than an older child -- they are not as strong, may put dangerous objects in their mouths or try to climb stairs. However, toddlers are also at the stage when they need to separate themselves from their parents in order to become independent and an overprotective parent can hamper that drive to autonomy, according to the Washington Parent website.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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