INSIDE: This post explains the negative effects of helicopter parenting on children’s emotional wellbeing and development. It also includes practical steps to help you stop helicoptering today!
We all want the best for our kids. Being actively present and organising their lives undoubtedly has its benefits. We know where they are, who they are with, and that they are safe. We ensure their homework is complete, they’re prepared for all activities, and they are never late.
But there are times when being too involved can hinder their development. Helicopter parents are those who tend to hover over their kids and micromanage their lives. This drive for control stems from a place of love and concern as they are doing all they can to stop their kids from experiencing any difficulties or pain.
However, such controlling parents are usually highly anxious about their children’s wellbeing, which results in them becoming over vigilant. At the first sign of a problem, they quickly swoop in, often without thinking, to rectify the situation and protect their kids.
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Often helicopter parents are overcompensating for something without realising it. Perhaps their child has medical issues, and so they feel compelled to overprotect them. Maybe the parent is trying to give their child the kind of childhood they didn’t have themselves. Following a divorce, parents may become preoccupied with protecting their children from the inevitable fallout.
But it’s important to recognise the potentially damaging effects of helicopter parenting. Rather than helping a child, it can be intrusive and restrictive as the parents exert too much control over their children’s lives.
Table of Contents
- How Do You Know if You’re a Helicopter Parent?
- The Effects of Helicopter Parenting
- How to Stop Being a Helicopter Parent
- An Alternative to Helicopter Parenting?
- Final thoughts
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How Do You Know if You’re a Helicopter Parent?
- People may show very early signs of becoming a helicopter parent. During pregnancy, they tend to be anxious and over-cautious, traits that then manifest again once the child is born.
- Such parents may be fearful about leaving their child with other people, believing that they are the only ones who can adequately care for them. The thought of their close relatives babysitting can fill them with dread. Some helicopter mums may even struggle to leave their kids with their dad, particularly when the child is very young.
- Helicopter parents continuously worry about their kids’ safety and wellbeing. They see to their child’s every need and desire, micromanaging all aspects of their life and often restricting their freedom in an attempt to protect them.
The Effects of Helicopter Parenting
The effects of helicopter parenting can be wide reaching:
- Children of helicopter parents struggle to make their own decisions. They don’t develop problem-solving skills or any sense of independence, as their parents resolve all their difficulties for them.
- Such kids can be more prone to mental health issues. They fail to learn how to think for themselves or come up with their own solutions. Unable to independently tackle the challenges of everyday life, they lack confidence in their abilities and become fearful of the world around them.
- They often lack resilience and struggle as adults. Having been completely sheltered as children and never allowed to experience failure, they find it impossible to cope when faced with the inevitable knocks and disappointments of real life.
- Children need to learn to fight their corner, ask questions, seek clarification and say when they need something. But helicopter parents step in and do this for them. Consequently, their kids never find their own voice or the ability to speak up for themselves when needed.
- Children of helicopter parents can develop a sense of entitlement, believing that others should meet all their needs and wants. This can make them hard to live with, as they struggle to empathise and find compromise difficult.
How to Stop Being a Helicopter Parent
Nobody is suggesting that allowing kids to live without their parents’ guidance and support is a good idea. In fact, this is neglectful and utterly detrimental to their health and wellbeing. However, we do need to think carefully about just how much influence and control we really need to exert over our kids and how to mitigate the effects of helicopter parenting.
A lot will depend on a child’s character. Some will be naturally more confident and adventurous, while others may be more cautious and anxious about stepping out independently into the world around them. This isn’t a one size fits all scenario. We must tailor what we do according to the needs and personality of the child.
Children need far greater input from their parents when they are small, but as they grow, it’s essential to give them choices and opportunities to solve their own problems, make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. That doesn’t mean we can’t help pick up the pieces when things go wrong, but this approach does help them become resilient and self-reliant.
If you’re struggling with the idea of stepping back a bit, then think about the kind of adult you want your child to become and not just the child you are raising at the moment.
None of us wants our kids to grow up lacking the confidence to make their own decisions or function independently. So we must allow them to take some control in their own lives when they are young. We shouldn’t intervene every step of the way to solve their problems for them. Instead, we should be on hand to offer support and possible solutions. But ultimately, we need to step back and allow them to decide what to do, when and how.
an alternative to helicopter parenting?
Let them decide
When your kids are young, begin by allowing them to make their own decisions where possible. Let them choose what to wear or what they would like for breakfast. It may be necessary to give them two healthy alternatives, but the final decision can still be theirs.
Allow them to choose their own interests. As a helicopter parent, you may be desperate for your child to take up ballet, but if they’d rather do netball or pottery, then go with it.
As they grow, avoid declaring what you hope they will eventually become. Don’t project your ideas and high hopes onto them by labelling them as ‘a future doctor or scientist’. This puts them under pressure to please you rather than to fulfil their own inner talents and ambitions. Consequently, it may limit the range of opportunities your child is willing to consider for themselves.
Try not to live your hopes, dreams and missed opportunities through your kids. You may have missed a chance to study psychology at university or travel the world, but that doesn’t mean your child has to. Perhaps you longed for a high-flying city career, but your child wants to be a musician or a homemaker. Accept them as they are and support them in their own choices and decisions.
Encourage kids to tackle their own problems
As helicopter parents, it’s hard to resist the urge to swoop in and do everything for your kids. But try to remember that this only makes them dependent on you and stops them from developing the life skills they need in later life.
When they are little, let them dress independently. When they are older, ask them to make their own packed lunches, prepare their own sports kits for school or let them try their hand at baking some cakes independently.
Later, encourage your child to write their own university application or find their own part-time job.
Resist the urge to rescue them
When your kids act autonomously, there will be times when they encounter difficulties or make mistakes. They may be used to shouting for help in the knowledge that you will come running to their rescue. But intervening doesn’t help your child learn to dig in and find a solution when the going gets tough.
If they are in danger, you must intervene immediately. But in most cases, this won’t be necessary. Instead, try to resist the urge to helicopter in! Hold back a little and see if they can work the problem out for themselves. Perhaps suggest solutions after a while if they are still struggling. Only help or redirect their efforts if absolutely necessary.
Relax and try not to worry
As much as we all want to stop our kids from coming to any harm, we have to accept that we can’t protect them from all the dangers in the world.
Trying to worry less may be impossible at first, so begin by not letting your child know how concerned you are, as this only serves to raise their anxiety levels and cause them to doubt their abilities to cope independently.
Start off small – helicopter parenting is a hard habit to break
If you have never allowed your 11-year-old out of your sight, then letting them go to the shop on their own may be too much of a leap for you. But perhaps they could walk to their friend’s house around the corner? Could you let them play out the front of the house without you sitting watching them?
Take little steps and build up gradually. This will give your child time to grow in confidence and reassure you and themselves that they will be ok to move onto something a little more challenging.
Allow them to take risks
Confining kids to entirely safe environments denies them the opportunity to take risks, to test their skills and ingenuity to discover what they are capable of. So, take the stabilisers off their bike, allow them to try their hand at skateboarding or climbing trees. Mitigate any dangers by providing safety equipment or limiting how high they can climb, but then step back and allow them to test their own abilities.
Depending on their age, perhaps the time has come when you can consider allowing them to use the kettle, toaster or microwave to prepare themselves a simple meal.
What’s most important here is teaching kids how to stay safe. Show them how to use the kitchen equipment safely so that they don’t get hurt or ensure they know how to cross a road properly. When you are confident that your child knows how to keep safe, you should be able to relax a little more about allowing them some independence.
Give them space
There are real dangers in the world, and it’s essential to supervise our kids, especially when they are small. But we can still watch from a distance without always intervening.
When visiting a playground, please don’t feel you have to hold your four-year-old’s hand as they attempt to run, jump, climb and swing. Intervene if necessary but as far as possible, give them space to explore and develop their own skills while you watch from a safe distance.
As they grow, you will need to give your child more freedom and allow them out of your sight for ever-increasing periods of time. I remember the panic I felt when my 13-year-old son wanted to get the train to a nearby town with his friends for the first time. I was filled with dread, but the time was right, and I had to let him do it.
When your kids are old enough to venture off independently, it’s crucial to curb your helicopter parenting instincts! Please don’t call or text them every few minutes to check up on them. Instead, set clear boundaries about where they can go, what they can do and when they need to be back.
Make sure that they have a reliable phone, enough credit and your number. Agree that they will contact you if there is a problem rather than you continually calling them. Perhaps ask that they text you when they arrive and leave their destination to give you some added peace of mind.
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Allow them to face the consequences of their decisions
You may find the idea of your child getting into trouble with their teacher unbearable. To avoid this, you may end up doing their homework or pulling them out of bed every morning to make sure they’re not late for school. But this does nothing to develop their independence.
Instead, allow them to face the consequences of their choices. If they have spent all their pocket money on sweets, don’t give them more than their weekly allowance to go to the cinema. If you want them to be good with money, you need to allow them opportunities to practise managing it.
When they forget their books at home, don’t run into school with them. If you want them to be organised, allow them to learn from the consequences of being unprepared.
Transitioning from helicopter parenting isn’t going to happen overnight. These behaviours are rooted in deep-seated anxieties and fears over your children’s wellbeing. It will take time, effort and practise to reshape your approach.
Take baby steps. Aim to move into the role of mentor to your child rather than controlling their every move.
Be sure that your kids have the necessary skills to complete what they need to do at every stage. In this way, you can rest assured that they are well equipped and can keep themselves safe.
If you’re an overprotective parent, I hope that I have helped you understand the potentially damaging effects of helicopter parenting.
I know how difficult it is to let go. I am naturally an extremely over-cautious parent myself and find it hard not to micromanage my children’s lives. But these techniques have helped me to allow my kids a little more freedom to make their own decisions and learn from their own mistakes. Perhaps they can do the same for you. I’d love to hear how you get on. Please let me know in the comments below.
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Thanks for reading,