How to not be a helicopter parent

November 14, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Do you hover over your child? It makes sense in today’s competitive and often scary world. But sometimes we go too far.

The recent college admissions scandal where dozens of wealthy parents, including celebrities and CEOs, bribed and cheated their children’s way into college is an example.

While many parents won’t go to these measures, some are still overinvolved to the point that’s damaging to their child’s growth.

This style of parenting coined decades ago, called “helicopter parenting,” means hovering over your child and then rescuing them whenever trouble arises. Similarly, a more recent cultural phenomenon, “snowplow parenting,” describes clearing obstacles in your child’s path so they don’t have to deal with frustrations or failures.

Both essentially mean being overinvolved parents. These parents are micromanaging every activity for their kids, ready to come to the rescue at the first sign of difficulty or disappointment. Parents of college-age kids are texting to wake them up, making doctor or haircut appointments for them, and even calling their kid’s employer over issues at work.

We all want to keep our children safe and happy, but at the same time, children need space to learn and grow. When you meddle too much, it can backfire.

Children of overcontrolling parents may be less able to deal with the challenges of growing up. Recent research by the American Psychological Association suggests that overcontrolling parenting leads to a child's inability to manage his or her emotions and behavior.

With undeveloped coping skills, they may be more likely to struggle in school and socially. They become accustomed to always having their way, which creates a sense of entitlement.

Also, when you hover over your child, you send the message that you think they’re incapable of doing it themselves, or that you don’t trust them to do it on their own. This leads to a lack of self-confidence. Your child may feel he/she isn’t able to make the right decisions unless you’re involved.

This amplifies anxiety and stress. Recent research suggests that parental overinvolvement can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression as children get older and try to make it on their own.

So how much parenting is the right amount? There’s a difference between being an overinvolved parent and an engaged parent. Research shows that some degree of hands-on parenting can benefit children. Putting a lot of time, energy and thought into raising children is a good thing.

Sometimes our children need us to intervene. But there is a line between being engaged with our kids and so involved that we lose sight of what’s best for them. If you are always there to clean up their mess, how will they learn to cope with disappointment or failure?

Growing up is hard to do. Your child needs to struggle through things on their own. It will help them problem solve and be confident in their own abilities. They need to experience failures, frustration, disappointment and setbacks. It will teach them resilience and how to handle bigger challenges later.

Here are 10 ways to not be a helicopter parent:

  1. Don’t do it all for them. Let your child do age-appropriate tasks themselves and step in only as needed. If they’re capable of figuring something out on their own, let them.
  2. Allow them to be uneasy. Letting your child experience difficult feelings helps them develop the capacity to learn and grow. By overcoming setbacks, your child learns to take disappointment in stride.
  3. Don’t rescue them. Try not to fall into a pattern of rescuing your child from their own bad choices. If they forget their instrument at home, don’t rush to drop it off at school.
  4. Listen to them. Don’t impose your own wishes or values on them. Ask for your child’s opinion and don’t criticize it even if you don’t agree. Let them have goals and dreams of their own.
  5. Let them fail. Sounds crazy, right? But it will happen from time to time, and it’s OK. When your child fails, help them work through it. They will learn how it feels, and develop skills for how to bounce back and succeed next time.
  6. Don’t bail them out when they mess up. If your child does something wrong, let them face the consequences of their actions. Unless you believe it’s unfair, don’t interfere. For instance, don’t try to get them out of detention or keep them home from school if they didn’t finish a project.
  7. Teach them coping strategies. Help your child learn to control their emotions by talking about their feelings and their responses. Teach them coping techniques to use when they get stressed, such as deep breathing, meditation, listening to music, coloring, yoga, etc.
  8. Encourage independent thinking. You can brainstorm strategies together, but resist the urge to solve your child’s problems for them. Encourage them to come up with their own solutions and make decisions on their own so they learn to trust their own judgment.
  9. Be real. Accept your child’s weaknesses (we all have them) and encourage them to use their personal strengths to achieve goals.
  10. Be a good role model. Set a good example by using positive coping strategies to manage your own emotions and behavior when upset. Encourage your child to respect other’s opinions.

Nobody ever says parenting (or growing up) is easy. Getting from childhood to adulthood involves some degree of suffering, for both you and your kid. As hard as it is to do, you need to let your child fall sometimes so they can learn how to get up and keeping going.

Explore children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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A school year survival kit for parents

3 strategies to help your anxious child

Separation anxiety is real for kids (and adults)

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