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The Thin Line Between Protecting And Sheltering Your Child

Tough times don't last, but tough people do…

16/04/2017 9:27 PM IST | Updated 20/04/2017 1:31 PM IST
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It is a mother's basic maternal instinct to protect her offspring, both from physical as well as emotional harm. We are always looking out for our children to ensure that they never have to go through any pain and suffering inflicted by anyone or anything. Our children's happiness is first and foremost on our list of accomplishments as mothers. I have always wondered, though, if complete and absolute protection from emotional pain is a positive thing.

Let me explain what I mean by that. The line is thin between "protecting" and "sheltering". Sheltering equals over-protecting. Many times the line gets blurry because the two overlap. I ask myself all the time and rightly so, what my main hopes are for my children. What qualities and skills do I want them to possess, to enable them to have a fulfilling life? Like all other mothers, I of course want my children to be happy, healthy, safe, to be able to fulfill their dreams. But what I feel is important and sometimes lost somewhere along the way is building their ability to deal with pain and suffering and emerge from it that much stronger. No one goes through life without facing challenges. Giving my children the skills from a very young age, to overcome obstacles and be resilient, is key.

Pain and suffering are bad, but learning how to cope will make our children that much more resilient.


When it comes to protecting our children from physical harm, for example, we try and make sure they don't go and trip over their own feet trying to climb stairs before they can walk. So to protect them, we install gates all over the house. This is something as mothers we are obligated and trained to do. It is instinct. This does not have any bearing on their emotional state of mind but more on their presence of mind. We teach them to be cautious. This is protection, and not sheltering.

However, we as mothers often feel that protecting our children from any potential hardship means also preserving their emotional well-being at all costs. I am not sure how much I agree with this. I truly believe that a child's emotional development takes place from experiencing positive as well as negative feelings, starting from infancy. Getting pushed around by bullies, for instance, is a stressful and sometimes painful situation for any child. One would view this as a negative situation. But the way he/she is taught to react by the mother makes all the difference. There is protection—teaching him/her to face the situation head-on and strategise on how to handle it if happens again. Then there is sheltering—hovering around and complaining to the class teacher, which leads to the child being completely unprepared for handling future altercations, if any. In the former way, the child is being exposed fully to the negative event at hand, and in the latter, the mother is shielding the child completely by putting the responsibility of solving the problem on the teacher.

In the early stages of childhood, examples are set by the parents, especially the mother. I have seen my elder son watching me very closely for my reaction every time something upsets me. By letting my emotions flow and expressing my true feelings about a negative situation, I am teaching my children that negative and stressful events will occur from time to time, that they need to be confronted head-on without pretending like everything is fine, and that it's OK to feel pain because it only makes you stronger. Many people are of the opinion that nothing negative should ever be expressed in front of children. Is this true in every case? I don't believe so. For example, if there is a death in the family, I would not want to shelter my children from knowing what was happening. Instead, I would want them to understand the situation and furthermore, understand how to manage their feelings and cope. Age-appropriate explanations are, of course, required, but an explanation is definitely important. Removing them completely from negative situations growing up will only create insecurities, uncertainty and fear for when they will have to deal with something similar later on in life. Pain and suffering are bad, but learning how to cope will make our children that much more resilient.

Sheltering our children means not preparing them for the world that we expect them to live in.


Emotions need to be regulated. Pain and suffering are sadly a part of life, a truth which my children need to learn early on, and this can only be done by exposing them to certain realities. None of us want our children to be thrown into an unpredictable world. The development and regulation of emotional skills is crucial for children to protect themselves.

Sheltering our children means not preparing them for the world that we expect them to live in. Another way to go is to protect them by preparing them and exposing them to reality from early on in their lives. As mothers, we all want to do what is best for our children. Even if what's best is not within our comfort zone, buffering our children from stressful, negative and painful situations is not enhancing their well-being for the long term.

As Robert H. Schuller said, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do!"

What are your views on this? Please feel free to share your thoughts on what you would do at home with your children!

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