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Are you a Saviour Mum or Dad?

07 Apr 2015

Are you a Saviour Mum or Dad?

Some parents attempt to “save” their children from problems and difficulties. But does that benefit the child? Retired Principal, Mrs Jenny Yeo, shares more

Retired Principal, Mrs Jenny Yeo, shares how parenting can affect a child’s development.


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, with hair plastered to her face and soaked to her skin, standing at the reception counter. Mrs Tan, the mother of Sean, 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’s actions remind me of a “saviour mum” in action, channelling all her energy to protect her child from punishment and defend and fight her child’s “battles” in school, even if he is in the wrong. The typical “saviour parents” often try to “save” their child by doing things for them and going out of their way to clear the obstacles even before the child encounters them. Without a doubt, while their actions stem from love and care, it does have a negative impact on the child. 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.  

Dr Josephine Kim, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, shared about this at a Parent Seminar, Helping Children Flourish - Growth in Resilience, Empathy and Hope. Dr Kim had met a child who painted herself without arms and legs. The child said that she did not need them as her mum did everything for her. Dr Kim highlighted that by “saving” our children from doing things, we are essentially removing their arm and legs!

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, “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 first met Tim in Primary One, he was climbing the stairs extremely slowly while his grandmother watched from far and shouted, “Be careful! Be careful!” Tim was surrounded by overprotective caregivers, so he did not believe in his own ability. This affected his school and working life. He could not cope with situations and suffered from depression. 

Hence, it is important to recognise that by allowing children to experience life, it presents them with opportunities to learn and manage the bumps and knocks which helps in character development.

I met Benjamin when he was in Primary One. Each time he had to change 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. His classmates called him a baby. He even paid them twenty cents to tie his shoelaces when they came off! I taught him and within a week, Benjamin 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 and felt 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, to my surprise, he said, “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 parent of a student decides to confront the group and tell them what to do. The parent would be depriving the child of the chance to learn about teamwork, negotiation and respect for different viewpoints, which are essential social skills required in society and the workplace.

So, my advice to doting parents is this: Hug and kiss your child to show your love, be mindful not to overprotect but 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.