It is normal, instinctive really – to worry about your child’s safety. From the moment they are born, parents feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to keep their child safe. Suddenly, things that never seemed dangerous before become a carnival ride of danger. For many parents, hearing about abductions, abuse and freak accidents that happen in the lives of children have a dramatic effect on how they care for their own child. And while it is always better to be safe than sorry, there does come a point in life when excessive worry and warning becomes detrimental to a child.
In recent years, there has been some pretty extensive research studies conducted about the effects of parental anxiety on children. In the words of author Elizabeth Stone the decision to have a child ‘is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.’ With this statement comes the silent realization that in some event or circumstance your child could be fatally harmed. And no parent ever, wants to experience or go through that pain. Yet while mom and dad are worried about the playground as if it as a war field kids are just kids. And too much worrying on behalf of the parents can actually stymie development, self-confidence and trust in the world.
In the book, Protecting the Gift, Gavin de Becker says in regard to parental worry, that ‘preparedness is a funny thing: there’s only so much of it a soul can stand because the problem with bracing for the worst is you have to imagine it first!’
Translating that to parenting, it becomes apparent that integrating your excessive worry into your parental experience not only has a grave affect on your own emotions and stability as a parent but also dramatically affects how safe your child feels in life. When kids are babies or toddlers many parents become NO-NO parents. Of course, you want to teach your child about things in life that could pose danger. No good mom or dad is going to allow a child to climb to the top of the fridge or stick a screwdriver into an electrical socket. However, when does no become too much?
If you were to watch a group of children, you can see major differences in children who parents are excessively worried about their child’s safety. They become inherently dependant and are unable to make even simple decisions without looking for an authoritive face. Long term, this behavior can lead to rebelliousness in later years when children naturally want to be able to make their own decisions. Or it can lead to complete dependency and insecurity. Neither of which are good choices for life.
The key is finding balance. Obviously, you want to provide a safe environment for your children. The fear of your child getting hurt is a billion dollar industry and is in fact one of the most highly searched for advice today. Long before parents give birth, they are willing to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to baby proof their homes. This baby proofing can explode as parents begin to worry about their child’s mortality and inevitably, parents can wind up life proofing their children.
It is true that you cannot always think in terms of danger. In order for your child to learn to walk, they must learn how to fall down and dust themselves off. If parents are hysterical about a bump or boo-boo, and become unglued at the thought of a bruised head, children will be afraid to walk. How will they ever learn to run? More importantly, how can parents who worry a lot (which we all do) learn to balance their worry and be realistic?
For one thing, it is important to put your worry about your child’s safety in perspective. The number one worry of parents is that their child will be kidnapped by a stranger. Yes, it does happen. But it is rare. In fact, experts admit that a child is more likely to die of a heart attack than to be kidnapped by a stranger. How many times have you heard of a toddler having a heart attack? While the possibility does exist it is remote and in the United States, the numbers of stranger kidnapping have not risen above 100 kids in the past 4 decades. And imagining the scenario and taking steps to protect yourself and your child are matters of common sense. Likely, you take precautionary steps. You are probably ultimately aware of the energy it takes to constantly keep watch on your child. And you have likely imagined the scenario a million times over. Is it truly worth frightening your child to the point of anxiety in an effort to ward off your own fears that your child will be kidnapped by a stranger? Teaching them how to react and deal with strangers is much more productive than scaring your child to death. The first step in avoiding being a worrywart is to keep your fears rational!
The next step is to become an advocate on safety. Teaching our children how to be safe, is a number one parental job. You have to teach your child that the stove is hot, that the pool can be dangerous. You have to set limits and boundaries and rules. In other words, you have to worry productively. Guide them, but try to keep your own fears of your child being hurt to your self. Warn them genuinely and avoid making them feel that danger exists at every single fork in the road. There are unlimited benefits to being proactive in your worry about your children’s safety. As long as you keep things in perspective, keep your children under watchful and protective eyes and remember that some things’ they have to learn on their own.
Perhaps an important way of thinking about your child’s safety is this. In the book, The Heart of Man, by Dr. Erich Fromm researched the outcome of a child whose mom was a victim of chronic worrying. In his book, he outlines that while the mother doesn’t harm the child in any obvious way she does slowly but surely drain the joy from her child’s life. Consider for a minute that the literal meaning of the word ‘worry’ is to strangle and choke. His outcome was that children who grow up ‘smothered by unwarranted fears are haunted into adulthood. He concludes the book with the fact that while ‘everybody dies’ not everybody truly lives.
Worrying about your child’s safety is natural. No one will worry about your child in the same way that you do. The world, once safe and happy can become a bleak and dangerous existence when you have to learn to trust this same world to host your child. However, if you worry too much try to get a handle on your fears before you pass them unnecessarily on to your children. Realistically speaking, while things do happen to children you live in a world where statistics indicate strongly that your children have a 99% chance of outliving you; indicating that your worst fears and worry will never come to fruition. While this doesn’t call for you to be lackadaisical, it does give you reason to relax.