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9 tips to help overprotective parents ease-up while keeping their youngsters safe

An expert warns over-protectiveness can damage children, and gives tips on how parents can ease-up while keeping their youngsters safe. By Lisa Salmon

Protecting your children is instinctive. But some parents take it too far. Research suggests that while nearly half of UK mums say they'd do whatever it takes to protect their child, for some that means preventing them enjoying traditional childhood activities.

A study for Dettol's Protect Like a Mother campaign found the extremes mums resort to include one in five young mums banning their child from climbing trees, and 15% not letting their child play at the local park. In addition, 31% of mums check their child's calls and texts, 12% track their mobiles, and 5% read their child's diary. One mother even booked a hotel next to the festival site her child was attending, and 27% of parents admit they've followed their child.

Author, TV presenter and mum of two Giovanna Fletcher, an ambassador for the Dettol campaign, says she made visitors wash their hands before holding her first baby, although she soon eased up on the rule. She says: "I would do anything to protect my children. There's no limit to what us mums will do to ensure our children are happy and safe."

However, experts warn that overprotecting children can actually end up damaging them. Dr Rachel Andrew, a clinical psychologist who works with children and has just written The Supermum Myth, says: "Anxious parents are sending two big messages to their children. Firstly, that the world is a dangerous place and secondly that their child doesn't have the skills to deal with it. Children can become anxious themselves if they believe this, or as they get older they may feel stifled."

Here are 9 tips to help overprotective parents ease-up:

1. Let your child take appropriate risks

If you let your child take appropriate risks you'll feel anxious, but modelling 'coping with worry' for your child allows them to learn it's a normal, healthy emotion that can help them achieve things.

"A small risk can seem huge to an anxious parent," says Andrew. "They can often think they're doing their best for their child by controlling their environment and what they do, but in order to develop confidence in their own ability, children need to take some appropriate risk."

2. Only check mobiles if there's a serious issue

Only check calls and texts if you think something very serious is going on - that your child or another child is at significant risk of harm. Exhaust every other possibility before checking, as Andrew warns: "Once a confidence is broken in this way it can be very difficult to re-establish trust with your child. Breaking confidence needs to be worthwhile and a last resort."

3. Ask them to show you texts

If you're anxious about your child's calls and texts, work with him/her to solve the issue by asking them to show you texts or chats. Reassure them they won't be in trouble and they don't need to be embarrassed.

4. Don't read their diary

Similarly, don't read your child's diary unless you think there's a possibility of a serious negative issue in their life.

5. Talk rather than follow

Rather than following your child, if you're concerned about a danger it would be better to talk to them about it and come up with a joint solution - agreed times when you'll call or text them, putting an app on their phone that they agree might be helpful if you need to find them (like find my iPhone), or agreeing a plan should they become worried about anything.

6. Challenge yourself

List activities with your child that they'd like to do (and that most children can do), and divide them into green (safe), amber (bit risky) and red (very risky). Allow your child to do some activities on the amber list and, when you're more comfortable, some on the red list. As they're doing them, find ways to manage your anxiety. Gradually let your child take more risks, and congratulate yourself when you've let them.

7. Accept some secrecy

Some secrecy in adolescence is normal, as is a child's move towards their peer group rather than their parents.

8. Don't become obsessed with cleanliness

While it's natural to want to keep things clean immediately after having a baby, this should fade with time. If it doesn't, parents should force themselves to ease up on the cleaning a bit, otherwise it can become overwhelming and detract from the enjoyment of your baby.

9. Build a strong relationship

A strong relationship with open conversations is key to keeping children safe.

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