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Family matters: In safe hands

By Heather Large | Woman | Published:

Being a parent means keeping a watchful eye on your little ones. But T what happens if you’re overprotective? Heather Large finds out. . .

Safe and sound – keep your little ones secure without going over the top

From the moment they are born, every mother will have an overwhelming instinct to protect her child. They will simply do whatever it takes to put them before anything else and ensure they always stay out of harm’s way. And mothers in the West Midlands are said to be among the most protective in the country, according to a recent survey.

It’s believed that Generation Z – children born in 1994 and later – could be the most protected age group ever.

It could be said that, in some ways, today’s children have a lot less freedom than their parents or grandparents had at the same age. But then the world is an ever-changing place and things that were acceptable 40 or 50 years ago – such as playing unattended in the park or walking several miles alone to school – are viewed quite differently now.

Children are also exposed to some of the dangers of the world from an earlier age thanks to modern technology and social media. While there are different threats that simply didn’t exist half a decade ago.

Parents now have to cope with the digital minefield that is the internet especially when their offspring get older and appear to have a smartphone permanently glued to their hand.

It’s essential that they need to be aware of potential threats to their safety whether they’re out and about – or online.

But the new research, from Dettol, has revealed some of the lengths that parents will go to to protect their offspring. Twenty-seven per cent of parents admitted they had followed their child to ensure they are out of harm’s way.

This is compared to a mere four per cent of mothers over the age of 55 who did the same when their children were young.

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Some of the ways parents have decided to protect their youngsters is by checking their child’s call and texts and tracking their mobiles.

Others have banned their children from climbing trees or stopped them from playing at the local park due to fears about accidents or strangers. Some mothers have even gone as far as reading their child’s diary.

While one admitted that she booked a hotel next to the festival site her child was attending in an effort to protect them.

Recalling when her three-year-old son Buzz Michelangelo was born, author and television presenter Giovanna Fletcher said she understood all about this natural instinct.

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“I can remember how small and fragile Buzz was when we first brought him home. When we left the hospital the world around us seemed harsh, loud and alien. I was instantly hit with a desire to protect him.

“From watching him breathe at night, to making sure visitors used to wash their hands before holding him – I just wanted to keep him safe. That feeling hasn’t left, although I have eased up on making other people wash their hands,” she explained.

“As a mum, I would do anything to protect my children. From staying up with them all night when poorly, sleeping on the floor if they’re scared or swooping them up when they fall and hurt themselves.

“There’s no limit to what us mums will do to ensure our children are happy and safe. It’s an instinct all mothers have, and it’s not just a human thing. All mums in the animal kingdom have the same desire to protect,” added Giovanna, who also has one-year-old son Buddy Bob.

However, a huge 84 per cent of UK mums noted building a strong relationship and ensuring open conversation is a sure-fire way to protect their child and keep them safe.

In fact, a huge 86 per cent of women revealed they have that much sought-after mothers’ intuition and a quarter of mums think they could recognise their baby by their cry alone.

There are many ways to protect a child without restricting what they are doing or preventing them from enjoying the activities they love. If they want to ride their bike but you are worried they could fall off and enjoy themselves, teach them to ride it safely to reduce the risk of accidents.

Making sure they know what to do if they are approached by someone they don’t know will also help you to feel less afraid when out and about. Ensuring parental controls are set on any devices so that children can still use them but you have a say in what they can and cannot see is another way to give them a bit of freedom but reduce the risk.

When it comes to parenting teenagers, charity Family Lives says they need more ‘helpful attention’ rather than’ protective attention. It recommends allowing children to learn from their mistakes rather than ‘showing them how to do it’ and accepting they might do it differently from you.

Experts say that teenagers will often defy any attempts to keep them safe, by staying out late, running around with ‘bad company’, taking what parents may consider risks with internet use. But being prepared to hear their point of view can make a big difference as they will respond better to being listened to rather than ignored.

Learning to let go: top tips on how to give your children more freedom

  1. Are they ready? Generally if a child is asking to do things by themselves then they probably are. But when thinking about whether the time is right, consider their maturity and ability to think for themselves.
  2. Start early. Experts say the best approach is to begin early, when your child is young. Start with simple things, then it will seem less daunting when they are older. If parents do this for the first 12 years of their child’s life, the teenage years should be less frightening and overwhelming for both.
  3. Take your time. Don’t give your child unlimited freedom all in one go. If your child wants to ride their bike by themselves, then make sure they know how far they can go, it could be just to the neighbouring street or a local park. Once you are both comfortable with this, you can consider extending the distance.
  4. Practice makes perfect. If your son or daughter wants to start walking to school alone, then do a few trial runs with them. Walk with them a few times to make sure they know the route and can cross the street safely.
  5. Set ground rules. Once your child starts going out by themselves, you might want to set a time for when they must be back home or ask that they check in with you at certain points in the day. If they fail to do as you’ve asked then make sure there is a consequence.
  6. Be prepared. Make a plan for how you will work together to solve any problems should they arise. Being well-prepared for any road bumps that might occur will help you feel better and help to teach them a useful skill for the future.
  7. Speak to other parents. Although what’s right for some might not be right for you, it can be useful to speak to others about how much freedom they give their children. Getting different viewpoints can help you to make decisions if you are unsure.
  8. Distract yourself. It’s only natural to be afraid when your child has newfound freedom. But it’s not healthy for either of you if you are constantly looking at the clock or the front door. Spend the time doing something you love and it will fly by. Over time you will soon feel happier.
  9. Communication is key. Talk regularly to your child about what they doing or any new activities and make sure they know they can come to you with any concerns they might be having. Knowing they can still come to you with any worries will help them to feel more confident.
  10. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. Few parents like doing this, but it may be necessary, if your child is asking for something that you don’t feel that they are ready for, don’t feel guilty about it. Sit them down and explain to them why you feel the way you do and come to a compromise.
Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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