The term “helicopter parent” has popped up a lot lately in parenting circles. It was first coined by Dr. Haim Ginott in his 1969 book Parents & Teenagers. He was quoting teens he had interviewed who claimed their parents hovered over them like a helicopter. Since then, the term has become a catch-all for overprotective, controlling, or perfectionist parents.
So what exactly is a helicopter parent?
The term may have initially been used to describe parents of high school students, but it’s becoming a recognized issue with parents of young children too. Helicopter parents tend to exhibit the following behaviors:
So what’s the problem?
Some of you might be thinking, so what? An over-involved parent is surely better than a parent who just leaves their pre-schooler in front of the TV all day and never pays any attention to what’s going on!
While there is some truth to that, the problem is, when a parent monitors their child’s every move, it will not give the child a chance to develop the coping skills he needs.
Personally, it’s my goal to raise children who will become well-functioning adults, and that means I simply can’t fix everything for them. It’s my job to encourage them and teach them how to get by in life using their own intelligence and problem-solving abilities.
It’s normal to be afraid and to want the best for your kids. It’s normal to want them to be safe and protected from other children and to never have their feelings hurt or have them get in a fight. It’s normal to want them to excel at school so they can eventually get into a good college and get a good job.
But if your child never experiences failure or challenges, he will have zero capacity to deal with the real world as an adult, which is full of hardships and tough decisions and even failures. The important thing is to make sure your child will be able to get up, dust himself off, and carry on.
And while the intention helicopter parents might have is to create a safe and nurturing environment in which their child feels loved, supported and accepted, it can often have the opposite effect. Kids with over-protective and over-involved parents can actually end up feeling anxious and have decreased self-esteem. In fact, a study from the University of Mary Washington found that overparenting is associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression.
Because they aren’t learning to cope with situations that are difficult and unpleasant. If a mother interferes on the playground the second another child approaches her kid and tries to take his shovel and doesn’t let any altercations take place, the child will have never learned to deal with a situation where he feels threatened. As he gets older and his mother or father isn’t there at school every second to protect him, he will be at an utter loss as to how to deal with it.
So how can you avoid this style of parenting and still do a good job?
Be there. Make sure your child knows if she needs you, you will help. But also make sure she knows she is expected to do certain things on her own. Allow her to make mistakes and take some responsibility for her life.
Depending on the age, that could be anything from dressing herself, picking out her own clothes, keeping herself occupied while you make dinner, doing her own homework unless she gets stuck, walking herself to the bus stop instead of getting a ride…the list goes on and on.
And if you see that kid approaching your child at the playground, even if you think he’s going to take away the shovel, stand back and wait until you’re needed. Who knows, your child might surprise you by knowing just what to do!
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