As the bonding process begins, parents have an incredible desire to protect their newborn infant. However, as baby begins to grow, some parents begin to obsess about the sometimes cruel and unfair world in which we live. They want to shield their child not only from getting physically hurt, but from disappointment, failure at school, problems with peers, and a litany of other potential difficulties.
The overprotective parent “coddles” her child when she believes that completely shielding her child from inevitable problems and disappointments is a necessary part of parenting. Subsequently, the coddled child will learn to depend on others to rescue him from life’s calamities instead of depending on himself. Coddling also has to do with over indulgence and spoiling. This leads to a child expecting that the world is a place where his needs are always met.
Go Ahead—Coddle Your Infant!
Most experts agree that parents should immediately tend to their infant’s physical and emotional needs. Parents are teaching their infant to trust his caregivers and to learn that home is a safe haven. Lauren Solotar, Ph.D., Chief Psychologist and Senior Vice President of clinical services with the nationally renowned May Institute, concurs. She says, “Infants are totally different. They are 100 percent dependent on their caretaker physically, cognitively, and emotionally.” Coddling becomes a problem when children get older.
Nurture versus Coddle
Parents need to strive to nurture (not coddle) their child, in order to bring up an emotionally healthy, independent human being who can learn to solve problems and conflicts on his own. Children need to learn that one does not always get what one wants, and that life is sometimes unfair.
Coddlers step in to negotiate for their child instead of letting the child work out problems for himself. They intervene, regardless of the severity of the situation. Parents who coddle their child provide instant gratification for things the child wants as opposed to what he needs. In contrast, the nurturer trains her child to deal with problems on his own.
Psychologist Erik Fisher, Ph.D., author of The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict, says, “Parents who coddle their child don’t allow the child to develop a sense of self. Coddling is when parents predict the failure of a child.”
Dr. Solotar compares the two styles of parenting. “Nurturing raises a child’s self esteem. It is healthy and positive. Coddling has a more negative connotation. It is synonymous with overprotective parenting. Parents must find a balance between providing the right amount of supervision and letting their child have enough esteem to make his own decisions.”
Why Do Parents Coddle Their Children?
Today’s families have to cope with a more hectic and fast paced lifestyle than families did decades ago. For many, two incomes have become a necessity. Parents often have less time to spend with their children, and there is sometimes guilt associated with not having enough hours in the day to tend to children’s needs. Parents may coddle because they’re trying to make up for lost time.
Mary Ann LoFrumento, M.D., a pediatrician and creator of “Simply Parenting” (a program designed to end parents’ anxieties and bring parenting back to basics), says, “I have seen an increased anxiety with parents starting during pregnancy. Parents no longer have extended family around and they feel more isolated. People call our practice all the time because we’ve replaced the extended family.”
What happens to children who have been coddled throughout their growing up years? Dr. Fisher says, “Children who are coddled have a harder time with separation anxiety.”
Dr. Solotar warns that a child who is coddled will not become a successful adult. “Parents should provide guidance, but to constantly intervene prevents a child from learning. You put your child at risk when he doesn’t learn to communicate and interact with people.”
- Look at each situation individually
- Do not overreact
- Intervene only when necessary
- Continually reassess your child’s friends and behaviors before drawing boundaries
- Evaluate your child’s maturity level
- Allow your child to do what is natural to do at his age
Parents should use common sense when deciding it’s time for all of those “firsts”—first time down the street to a friend’s house, to the prom with the family car, or simply toddling forward down a full flight of stairs. Sometimes it might feel like you’re jumping blindfolded into an abyss. But if you’ve taught your child the skills he needs to navigate the world solo, you can take that leap.
Myrna Beth Haskell is a freelance writer and mother of two. Her work has appeared in both national and regional publications.