Are you a saviour mum or dad?

I vividly recall a day when a tropical thunderstorm was in full force. I was in the school's general office when I saw a frazzled lady, soaked to her skin and with her hair plastered to her face, standing at the reception counter.

Mrs Tan, Sean's mother, had braved the raging winds and rain to bring her son's spelling exercise book to school because she was worried that he would be scolded by his teacher.

Mrs Tan was a "saviour mum", channelling all her energy to protect her child from punishment and fight his battles in school, even if he was in the wrong.

The typical "saviour parent" often tries to save the child by doing things for him and going out of his or her way to clear obstacles even before the child encounters them.

Without a doubt, while the parent's actions stem from love and care, they do have a negative impact on the child.


ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

The next time Sean forgets to bring something, he is likely to expect his mother to deliver it.

If Mrs Tan continues to "save" her son, Sean will not learn about ownership and responsibility - important values that he will need as he grows up.

As parents, we often have the impulse to dive in and save our child when we think he might get into trouble. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves: "Is my intervention necessary? Would it help him grow? Does it help in building his confidence and self-esteem? Or would my actions incapacitate my child?"

When I met Tim, he was in Primary 1 and was climbing the stairs extremely slowly, while his grandmother looked on, shouting: "Be careful! Be careful!"

He was surrounded by overprotective caregivers, so he did not believe in his own ability.

This affected his schooling and, eventually, his working life. He could not cope with situations and suffered from depression.

It is important to recognise that allowing children to experience life presents them with the opportunities to learn and manage the bumps and knocks along the way, which helps in their character development.

I met Benjamin when he was in Primary 1. Each time he had to change his clothes after physical education lessons, he would ask me to help button his shirt and tie his shoelaces.

When I asked him to try, he looked at me helplessly and said he did not know how to do so.

His classmates called him a baby. He even paid them 20 cents to tie his shoelaces when they came undone. I taught him how to tie them and, within a week, he could do it on his own. He felt really good about it.

I strongly believe that allowing our children to face consequences builds their resilience.

When my son was nine, he was made to stand outside the classroom for disrupting the lesson when he burst out laughing at a joke cracked by his friend.

He protested, complaining that it was unfair because, if his friend had not cracked the joke, he would not have laughed.

When I asked if he was still angry with his friend or teacher, he said, to my surprise: "It's okay, Mum. I was 'out-standing' today!"

The minute he joked about his punishment, I knew he was able to cope with admonishment.

As parents, we help our children if we allow them to fight battles and resolve conflicts.

For example, during project or group work, they may encounter disagreements. Imagine if a student's parent confronts the other students and tells them what to do. The parent would deprive the child of the chance to learn about teamwork, negotiation and respect for different viewpoints - essential social skills required in society and the workplace.

My advice to parents is: Hug and kiss your child to show your love, but be mindful not to overprotect.

Assure them of your support, let them grow and help them become confident about their abilities.

We should "save" their self-worth and confidence by helping them become resilient and able to work well with others - which will go a long way in helping them live well.

  • Jenny Yeo was a principal for 18 years in Kheng Cheng School, Radin Mas Primary School and South View Primary School. She is a lead associate focusing on partnerships and engagement in the engagement and research division of the Ministry of Education.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Are you a saviour mum or dad?'. Print Edition | Subscribe