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Over Protective Mothering and How it Affects Child Development / Attachment

Understanding Over-Protection.

            It is said that God knew that he could not be everywhere – so he created mothers.  In almost every society, developed or primitive, and amongst all species of animals, mothers are meant for protecting and guarding their off springs and taking care of them till they can do so themselves.  Therefore, protection of a child by a mother is natural and instinctive, and if it were not for this instinct, helpless siblings would perish before they could be strong enough to become a member of the planet.

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            That being so, it is very important to understand as to what is meant by “Over Protective Mothering” (OPM).  Various societies may define it differently, and within a society two families may lay down a different limit where they differentiate `taking care’ from `over protection’.  In a financially less blessed household it may be normal for a child to help in painting the house whereas in a more well to do family this may be considered too dangerous.  A child in Bronx may be allowed to interact with the street world. The same may not necessarily be true for a child living in a villa in Long Island.  Children may be allowed to interact with opposite sex in the western societies, whereas the age at which this is allowed in the other societies may be different.

            So, is there a universal definition of OPM? Probably `yes’.  Notwithstanding the fact that OPM is a class and a culture specific phenomenon, the concept could be understood in many ways.  What it refers to is `protecting a child to a degree which starts to inhibit the child’s legitimate interaction with the environment thus affecting the child’s learning resulting in stunting the child’s development’. OP mothers `start to live on behalf of the child’.    Another trait of OPM is that it is not necessarily accompanied by excess of love for the child. Many a times it is a result of excess of love and attachment to one’s own self – and thus the desire to foster a mirror image.

Effect on Child Development

            Predicting as to how OPM affects child development is an even trickier. It could vary from fostering a selfish, self-centered, shy (SSS), timid, cheeky, and under-confident child, lacking emotional intelligence at one end, to merely taking-longer-to-adjust-to-reality (TLAR) type of person on the other extreme.  This vast difference in reaction to over protection is a result of the fact that humans react differently to the same stimuli.  No hard and fast rules could be laid down. 

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The Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) lays down 16 types of personalities with out specifying as to why they are the way they are.  These types range from an Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judgmental type at one extreme to an Extrovert, Sensing, Feeling, and Perceptive type on the other.  These types pertain to 16 different responses based on personal preferences of the type.  Passing through the same office one may define it as `an understaffed office’ whereas the other may notice a leaking cooler and a chair with a broken arm.  Why? Because they are two different type of people.

            Similarly all children subjected to OPM may not have the same effect on their development.  This fact may become evident from monitoring the development of the eldest and the youngest child in various families. It is true in almost all cultures and families that the youngest child is relatively more pampered.  Therefore, on an OPM scale such a child invariably scores higher than other siblings. But it would be incorrect to say that a higher rating on OPM scale causes all such children to be less developed in any manner.  For some cases the answer could be – an emphatic `yes, for some – `may be’, for some  `an emphatic no’, and some may become more confident and wholesome because of the extra attention and pampering.

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            Having understood that OPM may not affect the development of all children the same way, one thing that could be said with certainty is that OPM, as defined in this paper, is not a welcome factor in child development simply for one reason: the traits that develop at the worst extreme are so dangerous that the “what if?” factor precludes taking an chances.

What About Attachment?

            Are children subjected to OPM more or less attached to their mothers?  Again a cut and dried answer would not be close to reality.  It all depends on what they grow up to be. If they are on the good extreme (TLATR) they may be more attached to their mothers than other children, all their lives, in a positive manner.  If on the contrary they are on the worst extreme (SSS) then they may live in a love hate relationship with their mothers.  They would be more attached to them as a matter of habit and need, but would dislike them when they would realize that their present state is a result of OPM (which most of them would as they grow up).


            The limit where a certain action qualifies to come under OPM is culture and class specific.  OPM could affect `child development’ and `attachment’ differently amongst different cultures and classes under different conditions, because human personality (response to a stimuli) is not solely dependent on early childhood treatment.  However, OPM could be classified as an un-welcome phenomenon in childcare because it could have some very adverse effects on child development.

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