Overprotective parents – the downside of saying BE CAREFUL!

25 November, 2013

Lean in. I want to tell you about how I omitted the words “Be Careful” from my vocab. I was far from a helicopter parent, I was simply one of those ever-so-slightly overprotective parents. I thought I could keep Ramona from harm’s way by having control over her movements.

Guess What?!

Ramona will tell anyone with ears about my awesome parenting; the new next door neighbour, the shop keeper, the lollipop lady. “So, when I was a kid, I broked my leg, and I had to got to the hopsital.”

She’d been climbing on to a toy piano and had managed to pull herself up on to a windowsill but before she found her footing she crashed to the ground. A trip to A and E, an X-ray, a plaster cast. She was just one year old and had a broken leg. Now she is three years old and has a cool story.

I felt awful at the time. That I couldn’t protect her from a break. But in the years since I have found myself backing off even more, giving Ramona and Juno even more freedom to climb and test their limits.

Because the one thing you learn from a break is that they are bad, but there are worse things. And even the most overprotective parent cannot save their child from everything.

Worse would be picking up a sense of fear and a distrust of their own judgement. Worse would be a timidity that stays with them their whole life.

If they hear “Careful!” every time they do or touch something new when they are tiny, will they hear this warning every time they face a challenge later on? If we allow our own nervousness to seep into their childish courage, will they be worried rather than excited at the prospect of something new?


We are born with a bubbling curiosity and a gnarly self-belief. Children want to take things on, they launch in to things gutsily, they try, they fail, they try again. But by the time we are adults loads of us are scared of failure, unsure of ourselves. It’s as if we have a loving “Ooh! Watch out! It’s a bit high for you!” whistling around our minds…

Almost every time I go to the playground I see it. Overprotective parents warning their kids; it’s too big/ fast/ old for them. (Parents should spend far more time on Twitter, ignoring their scallywags, letting them do whatever they want.)

These days, on my journey from the overprotective parents team to the autonomy protecting parenting team, I tend to stay within catching distance if it is something especially high, but only with half an eye watching, my body trying to exude nonchalance. A parent’s wary eyes and body stance can do as much as a verbal warning.

I’m also baffled by the way adults endow words upon a child’s activity. Ramona rode a massive horse last week for her third birthday and at least three grown ups since have said “Gosh! Was it scary?!” She wasn’t frightened at the prospect of riding a horse this time as she had no reason to be. However the next time she goes to ride one she might very well be. (I truly don’t mean to be unkind, it is nice they showed interest but we must watch the words we use when interacting with children- let them choose their own adjectives, eh?)


If there is something that makes you genuinely really nervous, talk with your child about how it makes you feel and together discuss a solution. “I feel a bit worried when you swing on that rope above the sharp shingle because I have a need to try and keep your skin in tact… Perhaps jeans might stop your skin getting ripped up?” But you know what? Even shredded skin heals. (Eh, Tim? My husband, who face planted into shingle from a rope swing.)

I heard the wonderful Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, at the International Gentle Parenting Conference this summer and I fancy getting one sentence he spoke tattooed right on my hand to remind me, and provoke playground conversation; “Broken bones will heal faster and better than being fearful and timid your whole life.”

Overprotective parents may well be setting up their children for a life full of worries.

The strangers soon tire of Ramona’s story. Their faces, initially contorted into horror and pity for my lame legged darling quickly take on an expression of boredom. Funnily enough it seems to nearly always be at the exact point that I launch in to a speech about child development, discovering physical limits and the importance of not inheriting fearfulness…

Overprotective parents - stop saying Be Careful!

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  • Kate 26 November, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I also get mad when adults say “you’re not shy are you?” when meeting my understandably cautious of strangers 2yo. She might not have been, but now it has a name and she knows that what grown ups expect you to be when they meet you!

    • Lucy 26 November, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      Exactly! They learn what is expected of them by these kind of words. It’s hard though as adults are so well meaning, mostly!

  • jennie hill 27 November, 2013 at 8:35 am

    You are totally right I would say I let my niece get involved quite a lot around the farm when I look after her twice a week. I’m pregnant due in April and I have to say this is what I’m a little worried about not for me or my man we want our children to be involved in everything we do. However the grandparents are going to find this very difficult!!?? How do I explain to them about the above without getting at them, any tips??

    • Lucy 27 November, 2013 at 8:39 am

      Send them the post then you don’t have to say anything hehehe! I think it’s quite commonly grandparents who are most wary, protective.
      I think an honest, kind word often works well. X x

      • jennie hill 27 November, 2013 at 11:09 am

        Thank you Lucy might have to wait till it’s a real problem! Due in April!!

  • Jem 27 November, 2013 at 8:01 am

    I’m going to send this to Karl (my OH) – he’s a right nervous nelly 😉

    • Lucy 27 November, 2013 at 8:41 am

      Hahaha, totally laughing out loud at nervous nelly!

  • Vicky Brown 27 November, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Love this post!
    My two year old has a fractured wrist right now (well, actually she gets the cast off today). People have reacted like its terrible, but honestly, she couldn’t care less, has totally ignored it, and she got a bright pink cast so was pleased about that! It’s been the most annoying for me, trying to keep it dry.
    So yes, I agree…. injuries are not the be all and end all. My daughter is a brave climber and it will be a cool story 🙂

    • Vicky Brown 27 November, 2013 at 8:03 am

      Sorry, I didn’t mean to leave a product link there… that was put on automatically

    • Lucy 27 November, 2013 at 8:40 am

      Exactly the same with Ramona, she was even walking on it after a week! She was soooo chilled about it all. (Apart from the Xray, hells bells!)

      • Vicky brown 27 November, 2013 at 8:48 am

        Oh yes, the X-Ray was not popular here either. We’ll see how she reacts to the cast removal later…!

  • Rachel Bridge 27 November, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    I laughed, I actually laughed when you wrote about Tim face planting into shingle (sorry Tim). But that’s kind of my point, if an adult does it, we laugh and move on, if a child did the same we mollycoddle them – when actually they just work out how they hell they ended up with a face full of shingle/carpet/tree branches and if it hurts then they’ll cry and come for comfort. To leap in beforehand stops that learning process and potential increases their fear to do stuff again.

    • Lucy 27 November, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      Well said indeed!

  • ThaliaKR 27 November, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Couldn’t agree more! Thanks, Lucy!

    My own rant on the subject:

    My husband has worked in emergency departments a lot, so that has been helpful. If I’m worried about something risky looking, he says, oh, kids don’t turn up at hospital having done that, don’t worry 🙂

    Also on my hit list: ‘bossy’

  • Anna 27 November, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Yes! I love this – I am so proud of my 11 month old little girl when she topples over and bumps her head whilst trying to explore her world. “Yay! Brave explorers do bump their heads when they’re on an exciting adventure” is the sort of positive reinforcement I like to give her, rather than “Oh dear – better be careful next time” etc.

    By the way… that picture of Tim throwing Ramona in the air is just my absolute best blog photo of the year. It’s just magical!

  • Mrs_scholes 9 December, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Our daughter fell down the stairs the other morning. I felt just dreadful. But my husband checked her over (he has crazy outdoor-pursuits First Aid training) and she was fine, more upset about the muslin/comforter she had tripped over (we think…) and therefore left halfway down.

    I thought a lot about this blog post in the days afterwards. You seem so…blase in tone about Ramona BREAKING something. When I in contrast feel dreadful about our daughter’s fall, when she is absolutely fine.

    I have made a couple of changes – now we always come downstairs backwards. I thought about carrying on as before, leaving her to potter around upstairs and follow me downstairs when she’s ready, bumping on her bottom. But I just can’t be that relaxed, sorry. The sound of her falling all that way…. *shudder* I also considered a number of other options, including carrying her every time, which is a) stupid as she has to learn to do it safely at some point, and b) double stupid as I am pregnant and won’t be able to in a few months’ time.

    How do I strike this balance? Ho hum.

  • Becky Brown 31 January, 2015 at 8:06 am

    I’ve read this post before but you brought it back to my attention in your latest post, and now it really hits home for me. As I write my 3 year old is lying in a hospital bed with a broken femur. I’m exhausted, sad, and want him home. ‘It could be worse’ I’ve been told many times but quite frankly that doesn’t make it any easier. With two boys we’ve had our fair share of tips to A&E but this has so far been the worst experience. Our 3 year old has been active what seems like from day one. We’ve never stopped him being his adventurous self and he’s fallen, lifted himself up, and brushed his little self down many a time. But his accident happened at school, out of my watchful corner of my eye. And the idea of him eventually going back scares the hell out of me. I’m not worried about him doing damage to himself, but more of other children doing damage to him (it was a collision with another child that caused the accident.) I know that this is something I will have to learn to deal with (I love the idea of homeschooling but know I could never do it in reality!) and I would certainly never stop him from doing things that he wanted to do. We have yet to see whether the accident has caused him to develop any negative or fearful memories of school, and if they have I guess we will work through those together as a family. In the meantime the ‘broken bones heal better…’ sentence will ring daily in my head.