I Expose My Girl to Physical & Emotional Risks -- In Order to Protect Her


Lilly Holland

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t check under my bed and in my closet for “monsters.” Just in case. Worry runs deep in my veins. It’s part of my DNA. I live by the phrase “better safe than sorry.” Never one to take an unnecessary risk, I can see how helicopter parents are born. Someone once told me that being a parent means forever wearing your heart outside of your body. We want to protect our kids at all costs. But when does protecting become controlling, and when does controlling adversely affect our children?

  • Controlling our kids’ lives hinders their ability to make decisions independently and overcome adversity.    

    Allowing our kids to experience uncomfortable situations, both physical and emotional, is critical for their growth and development. 

    Many psychologists agree that physical risky play is key to learning boundaries and bolstering confidence. Dr. Nathan Lents explains there are two type of stress: chronic and acute. Children should be protected from chronic stress, which comes from things such as abuse and regular exposure to violence. Acute stress, on the other hand, is a burst of stress that is resolved quickly. It’s the body’s response to something frightening, competitive, or dangerous. We experience acute stress in many forms of play such as sports and video games. Acute stress is good for us. Studies have shown that it actually benefits the immune system.

    Although it makes me crazy at times, I don’t hover over Penny, my 2-year-old, as she runs up and down the playground equipment and dives headfirst down the “big kid” slide. The stakes are pretty low here. It’s possible she will fall and break a bone, but it’s unlikely. Injury beyond a broken bone is even more unlikely. The more likely scenario is she gets sand in her mouth at the bottom of the slide or scrapes her knees. These bumps and bruises are just a few of the many building blocks that form the strong, independent person she will become someday. 

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  • The pool is one of the most nightmare-inducing places for me as a parent.

    Lilly Holland

    Especially after reading about Bode Miller recently losing his daughter in a tragic drowning accident, I’m more fearful than ever of Penny being around water. Keeping her away from pools completely, however, certainly won’t help her should she, God forbid, accidentally fall into one someday. Rather, I hope that as she discovers her limits in the water she will eventually become a cautious yet confident swimmer.

  • In addition to learning their bodies’ physical limits, kids need to have a range of emotional experiences as well. 

    We all know how painful it is to feel hurt, sad, angry, jealous. It’s even more painful to watch your child experience these emotions. However, our ability to feel in many different ways is what makes us human. Our role as parents is to guide our kids through these times and to teach them how to respond to these emotions. Our role is not, however, to control our kids’ behaviors, emotions, and social interactions. 

    I spoke with Dr. Nicole Perry, one of the authors of a study that examined how helicopter parenting affects children’s emotional well-being and ability to regulate their behavior. Perry tells CafeMom, “Parents should give children the opportunity to experience a range of emotions and give them space to practice managing these emotions independently before stepping in.” She continues, “If the task becomes too great, then they should guide children.”

    Perry suggests parents talk to their children about their emotions to help them understand their feelings and why they’re experiencing them. When we can name an emotion, it’s much easier to regulate it.  

    Some successful techniques to teach kids, Perry says, include “distraction away from the source of distress, listening to music, singing, deep breathing, coloring, or going to a quiet area. Because each situation is different, and certain techniques may/may not be appropriate for every situation, it is important parents let their children experience a wide variety of emotional situations to help them develop multiple self-regulatory strategies.”

  • If you think about the times you’ve grown the most, are they happy or were they more difficult moments? 

    Lilly Holland

    I know mine were certainly the latter. Being the victim of mean girls made me really question how my actions affect others -- even to this day, 20 years later. Fearing for my life while being sucked under big waves I over-confidently dove through taught me a lot about the power of the ocean. Our experiences are a gift that helped shape who we are. Shouldn’t we give that gift to our kids, too?