6 Simple Ways to Stop Overprotecting Your Kids

Anxious parents raise anxious kids. Here's how to stop the cycle and raise confident, independent children.

When her youngest son, Izzy, was 9-years-old, Lenore Skenazy let him ride the New York City subway home from Bloomingdale’s alone. He returned home feeling independent. But when others heard the story, Skenazy was labeled the “world’s worst mom” and was thrust into the national media conversation. 

Skenazy is now an author and speaks internationally on how parents can let go, which ultimately leads to more self-sufficient children. She launched the free-range kids movement to replace the helicopter parent movement. 

“To overestimate danger and to underestimate our children does not do anyone any favors,” says Skenazy. “The only thing that makes everyone brave is actually letting go and being amazed by who you have.”

Skenazy shared simple — but powerful — ways  that anxious parents can counteract the urge to overprotect their children at a recent ParentEd Talk sponsored by Chicago Parent as part of a series of talks with parenting experts.

Talk to kids about stranger danger

Skenazy says it is important to make the distinction for your kids that they can talk with anyone by being polite and answering and asking questions, but they cannot go off with anyone.

“Knowing this divide is the easiest way to open the world up to your kids and still keep them safe,” she says.

Teach your child the three R’s of abuse

Recognize it. No one can touch you where your bathing suit covers.
Resist it. Scream. Fight. Run. 
Report it. Tell your children that if anyone makes them feel weird or wants them to keep a secret, they should always report it to you and you won’t be mad at them. This helps dissipate any guilt and destroys the secrecy predators depend on.

Let children engage in autonomy and free play

Step back. When kids are playing on their own, it’s a very different experience than if they’re in a league or a class. When adults and kids are together, the adults are the adults and the kids are the kids, so the kids don’t have time to feel independent.

Give your kids small moments of independence

Whether it is letting your child run an errand alone, walking to the end of the block without a parent or playing ball in the backyard without supervision, when parents lessen up the grips on children, they become brave and determined – which is how they learn to be independent adults. 

“Once you do let your kids run that first errand, that’s what rewires parents,” Skenazy says. 

Set limits

For parents who worry that freedom can go too far, Skenazy’s advice is to set limits. If the child disobeys the rules, there should be consequences. 

Replace the picture in your head

Parents can worry all day about children being taken and fixate on this worst-case scenario, but rather than dwell on where and when that could happen, parents should instead focus on their children actually accomplishing these independent tasks successfully and blossoming.

Looking for more parenting tips from experts? Register for the remaining ParentEd Talks with one ticket!

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Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky is an award-winning journalist and bestselling children's book author. She is the mom of three little ladies who keep her on her toes.


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