Coddling: treating in an indulgent or overprotective way.
Ouch. I’m guilty of coddling my sons. How many of us as parents can say the same? Nowadays, it might be known as being a helicopter parent (over-protective) or a lawnmower parent (mowing down obstacles in your kid’s path).
The problem with coddling kids is that we inadvertently assist them in developing learned helplessness instead of the skills they need to maneuver more independently and successfully through life.
This is even harder for us as parents when our children have special or specific needs of the invisible kind and we don’t know if we are making necessary accommodations or not holding them up to enough of an expectation. Ugh. I feel you on this. I myself am working on undoing some coddling damage with my own two adult sons while still trying to make sure that their challenges remain understood.
So, having learned some things since my sons were small, with the kids in my groups, I break down intervention and emotional support into either coaching or comforting, but not coddling.
Benji, a 12-year-old daredevil, likes a lot of sensory input when he’s here. He’s forever hanging from things, climbing things, or taking the saucer swing to the extreme. He’s consistently being coached on possible outcomes (getting hurt, mostly). He insists we needn’t worry. We continue to coach on the possibilities while allowing him some independence in his play choices.
There came a day when he did get a rather nasty rope burn and came to tears. It was not time for coaching and “you were warned about this” or “we told you this would happen,” but time for comforting a kid who needed it. Comforting looked like expressing empathy that “man, that’s gotta hurt” and providing first aid with clean-up and having him put a bandage on it. Coddling would have sounded and looked more like making a huge deal out of it and doing all the first aid for him.
Another child, 5-year-old Eddie, would frequently throw himself down on the ground (pretending he fell) and cry big crocodile tears. If we coddled this, he would continue to use it as an unacceptable tool for attention. Comfort, based on the slight chance he actually did have a minor fall that all kids have and the tears look real, would be acknowledging him with “Whoops! It looks like you are okay. Let’s stand up and brush it off so we can continue having fun (and demonstrate what brushing it off looks like).
Coaching this (when we are sure it is simply for attention) is not paying any attention to the pretend falling down or tears and saying “I’ll wait until you are ready to get up and play again.”
Below are the definitions of comfort and coach. Both offer us a way to support our kids without getting caught in the parent traps that we don’t realize when they are little, that coddling is bound to spring on us as they grow.
Comfort: the easing or alleviation of a person’s feelings of grief or distress.
Coach: to assist in unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.