How to Stop Helicopter Parenting

“Helicopter parent” is a term given to parents who tend to hover over their children, ready to swoop in and solve all their problems for them.  Studies suggest this coddling is as unhealthy for children as it is exhausting for the parents. Yet many of us wait on our kids hand and foot and micro manage their lives to unbelievable extremes.

Parents can be quickly sucked into this hovering / swooping behavior as soon as their toddler whimpers over the least little thing. They want the crusts cut off their sandwich (but they eat the crust at Grandma’s), they can’t hang up their jacket, (but they can do it at preschool) they want you to put on their socks, when they are fully capable of doing it themselves, and you give in to the whining.

What Kind of Messages Are We Sending Our Children?

When we do things for our children that they can do on their own, what does that do to their self-confidence?  When we call their preschool teacher because some other kid cut in front of them in line, when we step into the middle of a toy negotiation at the park sand box, when we “help” them with their grade school science project that ends up looking like a college student made it, when we yell at the coach because our kid is still sitting on the bench, it chips away at a child’s belief in their own ability to handle these everyday situations. Studies show that parents who provide too much guidance and not enough independence run the risk of their children becoming depressed and anxious. If you recognize yourself in any of these situations, it’s time to back off.

Think back to your own childhood, chances are your parents didn’t hover nearly as much as you do. You probably played in the backyard unattended, made your own snacks, and your parents most likely missed a few of your school functions or sports events, and you turned out just fine. Today it’s a whole new world out there. Thanks to cyberspace and media in general, parenting advice is available 24/7. You can read about every scary thing that could possibly happen to your child. You can also research every illness, so there is endless opportunity for fear.  The rules for setting your little one on the path to lifelong success are more confusing than ever.  Society is different, technology is different, education is different, expectations are different, the future will be different.  Your children’s lives will be very different from your own. Even if you have a successful life, raising your child the exact way you were raised does not guarantee success for him. Understandably, you only want the best for your child, but you’re not sure you know how to prepare him / her for the future. Does this sound about right?

Quality parenting does not mean constant hovering and worrying. The best tools you can give your child is to teach them how to be self-sufficient. Give them the space to try things on their own, without your interference. Let them make mistakes. Let them deal with the consequences of their decisions. Show them strategies for making decisions and problem solving.  These are universal, lifelong skills that will serve them well at any age, and in a multitude of situations.

Landing the Helicopter

Now that you recognize some of the traits of a helicopter parent, here a few suggestions to help you break the habit.

Ask your child’s other caregivers what tasks he does when you’re not around, and then hold him to same standards at home.

Write a resume for your child.  On a piece of paper write Abby is three. Here are some really cool things she can do all by herself. Then list some of her abilities like picking up her toys, putting her clean clothes away, clearing her plate, and put a star next to each. Every time your child masters a new task, add it to the list with another star.  She’ll be so proud; she’ll be more likely to do things for herself, instead of asking you to wait on her all the time.

Practice some basic playground skills with you child, like kicking a ball, climbing the monkey bars, or going down the slide.  When you see he/she can do these things safely, you’ll be more comfortable sitting back on the playground bench, instead of “hovering.” Your child will feel more confident in his abilities as well.

Make a small photo album with pictures of your child doing all the things she needs to do in the morning before school, after school, and before bed. Even if she can’t read, she can follow along and accomplish the routine things she needs to do each day independently.

Give yourself a break. Make time each day to park yourself in a chair and have a cup of coffee, (or any beverage of your choice). If your child calls for you, and it isn’t an emergency, say, ”I’m drinking coffee right now.” If he really needs you, he’ll come to you, and if you do this often enough he may stop asking for help as much and figure things out for himself.

Count to ten before lift off.  As long as your child is not in danger, count to ten before responding to his cry of “Help me!” or “I can’t!”  You may find it’s not necessary to come to the rescue, OR your child may find he can do whatever it is that needs to be done all by himself.

Suggested Reading

Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times by Margaret Nelson

The Paranoid Parents Guide: Worry Less, Parent Better, and Raise a Resilient Child by Christie Barnes

Fun-Filled Parenting: A Guide to Laughing More and Yelling Less by Silvana Clark