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Question #1:  I don't let my 4-year-old out of my sight.  Am I being overprotective?

Does protecting your children mean constantly being with them? If that's what you believe, you will learn that it's not possible beyond a certain age. And yet, the wish to keep our children safe is very strong. The truth is either extreme -- too much freedom or too much protection. Overprotected children are not allowed to develop their own instincts and judgment, so they don't acquire the skills to recognize unsafe or suspicious situations. This results in children being more vulnerable, leaving them more susceptible. On the other hand, children who are given a great deal of freedom, often find themselves in situations beyond their abilities.

When children don't have the maturity or skill to handle what's expected of them, the results can be disastrous. The solution is to walk that fine line between the two extremes and be a wise, protective parent. Wise, protective parents, ask themselves, “How much do I need to supervise my child? Can I trust him to follow the rules?” Because his or her safety is at stake, you want to accurately gauge how much protection your child needs.

In general, if a child can’t understand a rule, it’s too early to set it. And if a child can understand a rule, but doesn’t have the impulse control to follow it, it’s also too soon to expect that he is going to act safely. Instead, you must be in front of him, behind him, and beside him. As exhausting as that may seem, until your child can demonstrate some self-control, regardless of his or her age, it’s just too soon to put your child to the test.

We teach children how to act safely by granting them small amounts of freedom based on what they demonstrate to us. We protect them by asking questions that help us gauge what strengths and weaknesses they bring to each situation. And we protect children by giving them hundreds of supervised opportunities to develop their self-control and good judgment, long before we expect them to use those skills without our guidance and support.

We need to:

  • Protect children from situations that are beyond their abilities
  • Prepare children with specific safety strategies for handling potential dangers
  • Practice with children when they are not yet competent to handle a situation without supervision

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