6 Characteristics of Overprotective Parents

Overprotective parents have the tendency to prevent their children from being exposed to unpleasant situations. But this often implies reducing their personal autonomy. What are the characteristics of this type of parent?
6 Characteristics of Overprotective Parents

Last update: 25 July, 2021

What are overprotective parents like? Is protecting the same as overprotecting? Where’s the line between the two? The urge to want to overprotect our kids is completely natural. However, the truth is that we’ll help our children more if we allow them to do things on their own than if we try to prevent them from doing things themselves for fear of seeing them suffer.

In the following article, we’ll discuss the characteristics of overprotective parents and how their behaviors can interfere with their children’s autonomy and development. In addition, we’ll offer some tips that’ll help you leave behind these behaviors, which, although they’re always well-intended, restrict the freedom of little ones.

Protection or overprotection?

Overprotection isn’t the same as protection. When we talk about protecting our children, we’re talking about healthy protection, a vital aspect: we protect them from dangers, from threats to their lives and well-being, etc.

On the other hand, when we talk about overprotection, we’re referring to behaviors that interfere with the proper development of children. Certain parental behaviors may invade a child’s personal freedom and their vital space.

A father with his young daughter sitting on his lap.

Overprotecting is a tendency that implies worrying excessively about another person, in the sense that we prevent them from suffering, exploring, developing… and all for fear that they’ll get hurt or suffer. However, in reality, pain and mistakes are almost always inevitable. What’s more, they’re beneficial for growing and learning.

Risky behavior

To a certain extent, it’s normal to show overprotective behavior towards children (especially with firstborns). In a way, it’s an instinct to make the little ones survive, to take care of them, and protect them.

However, when this overprotection’s excessive or prolonged over time, it can have negative effects on personal development and autonomy. What are overprotective parents like? Let’s take a look at six of their most relevant characteristics:

Six characteristics of overprotective parents

Overprotective parents usually exercise this excessive protection towards their children in order to prevent them from suffering or hurting themselves. Often, this trait is related to parental hyper-responsibility or to an atrocious fear of not being a good parent.

Therefore, these parents try to “compensate” through actions that are somewhat invasive for the child. These are actions that, rather than helping children, undermine their autonomy. Let’s get to know the most common actions.

They avoid exposing their children to any unpleasant situation

One of the characteristics of overprotective parents is that they avoid, almost at all costs, exposing their children to unpleasant or complicated situations. With all the good intentions in the world, they try to keep the little ones from suffering. But of course, this can be detrimental to them in the end.

Why? Because this type of behavior prevents or hinders children from developing appropriate coping strategies in the future.

They solve their children’s problems

Related to the previous point, another characteristic of this type of parent is that they solve their children’s problems. By trying to prevent them from suffering or having a bad time, they take care of their kids’ problems themselves. But, as in the previous case, this doesn’t empower them, quite the opposite. It makes them less autonomous children, teens, and, eventually, adults.

Overprotective parents limit their children’s ability to explore the world

These parents limit their children’s exploration of the world, an exploration that’s highly beneficial for their physical and emotional development. These parental behaviors can appear from the time children are young (preventing them, for example, from moving around too much at home to avoid hurting themselves) until they’re teenagers (limiting their outings with friends or their travel, for example).

They tolerate many demands

Another characteristic of overprotective parents is that they show a high tolerance for a multitude of demands from their children. In other words: “they give them everything“. The most direct danger of this behavior is the development of spoiled, capricious, or highly demanding children, who always have what they want without having to make an effort to get it.

They find it hard to set limits

As parents who tolerate all kinds of demands from their children, they also have difficulty in setting limits. This means that children often end up developing inappropriate behaviors because they believe that “anything goes”.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, setting limits can help children develop autonomy. At the same time, it helps them value their freedom and define and understand how they should and shouldn’t behave.

“Children need limits; limits provide them with security, as well as an environment and established rules about what’s okay and what’s not.”

A happy and confident boy hugging his father's waist.

Overprotective parents do everything for their children, even if they can do it themselves

Overprotective parents tend to do everything for their children, even if they are already capable of doing those things on their own. We’re talking, for example, about their hygiene habits (showering, dressing…) or their autonomy (getting around on their own, for example).

This also includes household chores such as setting the table, making the bed or preparing their backpacks for elementary or high school. Acting in this way can cause children to have serious difficulties in the future in facing or assuming responsibilities.

How to protect without overprotecting?

It’s clear that raising kids isn’t easy and that there’s no magic formula for doing it perfectly. We don’t have to be perfect parents either, but simply act as our instinct tells us. Always for the benefit of the child and with common sense, seeking a balance between disengagement or total indifference and overprotection.

“Education is growth; education is not preparation for life but is life itself.”

-John Dewey

In short, we know that overprotection’s very common in fathers and mothers, especially in those who are beginning to exercise parenthood. This type of behavior is normal, although, with time, we must learn to let our children spread their wings. We need to withdraw progressively from their tasks, as this can help them greatly.

How will it help them? It’ll empower them, help them to take responsibility for their own things, and help them gain autonomy and personal security. And, at the same time, it’ll offer them the opportunity to prepare for adult life, acquiring the necessary resources to face an increasingly demanding and changing world.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bowlby, J. (1986) Vínculos afectivos: formación, desarrollo y pérdida. Madrid: Morata.
  • Hoffman, L., Paris, S. y Hall, E. (1995) Psicología del desarrollo hoy. Vol.1 Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
  • Kimmel, D. y Weiner, S. (1998). La adolescencia: una transición del desarrollo. Barcelona: Ariel.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.