American Counseling Association

What parent doesn’t want to protect their children, to see them safe, healthy and happy?

Such concerns are part of our DNA, inherited from our cave-dwelling ancestors and their dangerous world. While today’s kids don’t need protection from saber-toothed tigers, there are still numerous ways for children to make mistakes. As parents, we need to realize that some mistakes are “good mistakes,” errors in decision making that may result in the wrong outcomes, but that can be valuable learning experiences for our children.

Parents always have a responsibility to try and keep truly dire, life-threatening consequences from occurring. But trying to ensure that children never make a bad decision, whether as toddlers, teens or even young adults, is really not doing them any favors.

The modern term for overly-protective moms and dads is “helicoptering.” It describes parents who constantly are hovering over their child, trying to ensure that all goes well. It’s parents keeping in constant contact and trying to help their child make all the right decisions.

Unfortunately, being over-protective can inhibit a child’s natural growth and independence. When Dad is up all night finishing that school science project, it isn’t helping prepare the child for the future. Kids with overly-protective parents often have trouble making their own decisions because they know Mom or Dad is always there to jump in. Such children can also end up rebelling strongly as their desire and need for independence grows.

And no, it isn’t always easy to give your kids room to make their own decisions, good or bad. However, it’s important that they do so for healthy development. And parents can still be involved. You can be there while they work through their dilemmas and to help point them toward good solutions, but your job isn’t to find the solutions for them.

Yes, you should be ready to step in when a child’s decision could be dangerous or life threatening, but giving your kids more space helps build confidence and independence. It encourages them to try new things, even things that might seem scary. You want to offer sympathy and understanding when things go wrong, but don’t always try to make things right.

When a child is allowed to face possible failure, and even sometimes to experience it, he or she will learn valuable lessons about growing up.

— “Counseling Corner” is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to or visit the ACA website at

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