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Are You a Helicopter Parent? Here is Some Landing Gear.

By Yvette Vignando – 29th May 2012

This was our topic of discussion on Channel 9 show Mornings today.

Are you a helicopter parent? Please don’t let this article give you anything else to be anxious about – instead use it to think about whether there are areas of your child’s life where he or she could become more independent and more self-reliant. I am sharing brief ideas with you about signs you may be a helicopter parent and four simple tips to pull back a bit and build your child’s confidence, self-esteem and independence.

Signs You May be a Helicopter Parent

Remember, being a helicopter parent, or even an A380 parent is not a pathological condition, but if you feel like you are over-parenting, perhaps you are? Here are some examples:

  • You discourage your children from taking even very small risks: and encourage them to avoid things that might make them, or you, feel uncomfortable or anxious.
  • Instead of gradually teaching your children to solve social problems or classroom problems, you step in before they’ve been encouraged to try solving it themselves, and you try to take the responsibility and make most of their decisions.
  • You encourage your children only to do things you are sure they’ll succeed in – e.g. a musical instrument or a sport or a certain kind of test – or perhaps you always let them win at board games with you?
  • You tend to speak on your children’s behalf in situations where they look uncertain, or when you are not sure what they are going to say.

A bit of helicoptering is fine from time to time but if that’s your technique in all or most situations, you may be far too overprotective. It is a ‘fine line’ sometimes, and some children do need more helicoptering than others at first because of their temperament. When it’s going wrong, and when you are going too far, you are potentially preventing your child’s development of self-reliance, independence and resilience.

Tips for the Helicopter Pilot Parent – or Landing Guide

  1. Challenge your children – give them opportunities to try new things and take small risks: a higher slippery dip without you, a walk to the corner shop to buy something. For older kids: talking directly with a teacher about a problem, getting to a social event via public transport. I am not talking about huge risks, but opportunities for your children to stretch slowly but surely outside their (and perhaps your) comfort zone – and it’s okay to take one step at a time.
  2. Value self-reliance – give your child the opportunity to do things for themselves and for the family as soon as they are able to: just small amounts of chores and activities that give them a sense of achievement and contribution from a young age – setting the table, emptying the dishwasher, making a birthday cake, preparing the salad. And by the beginning of high school all children should, for example, be able to make their own school lunches … but also self-reliance in the sense of gradually learning to handle life and its inevitable disappointments. Which brings me to …
  3. Reduce the rescues – if your child is not invited to a party, if he gets a bad mark in an assignment, if he has a falling out with his best friend – it is better to empathise and help him learn to problem solve. Your role should not be to jump in and fix it unless he really is not old enough to cope or his stress is more than he can bear (as opposed to more than you can bear) which leads me to this last point …
  4. Separate your feelings from your child’s: your anxiety about a situation may not be the same as your child’s. You may still be worrying or seething about a playground issue but your child may have moved on. You may be scared of that very fast fairground ride but your child may not be, you may be extremely worried about how your child will make friends at a holiday camp but he may only be slightly worried and needs to give it a go. You may not be able to cope with your child crying when he loses a game of Monopoly with you – but believe me, he will get over it.

You still need to show plenty of empathy for your children’s feelings and to take care of their wellbeing, but the key is to raise them so that eventually they can live without us even though we naturally feel that we can’t live without them.

View the video of Dr Penny Adams and I talking about helicoptering on Channel 9 show Mornings today


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