You’re used to following your child everywhere they go, no matter how old they may be. First, it was stooping down to trace your toddler’s every step around the house. Then it was racing around the playground with arms held out, ready to catch your child everytime they risked falling down. You had a webcam set up in their pre-school so you could watch the happenings from work, and when your child went on to grade school you would continuously ask their teachers for a progress report, checking in on what you could do to help them score those As.
Does this sound like you?
We’ve all heard of the four parenting syles: authoritarian, authoritative, negligent, and permissive parenting. But here, we add to the equation helicopter parenting – constantly “hovering” over our children, telling them what to do, and doing things for them – and we may not realise it, but we’ve all had our moments. We want the best for our children and we want to protect them from the world as we know it, but are we doing more harm than good? How much is too much? Why should we avoid helicopter parenting?
Helicopter parenting can have long-lasting detrimental effects on children.
According to a study, such overcontrolling parenting has a negative impact on children’s abilities to manage their behaviours and emotions. They are less able to handle challenges on their own, especially in the school environment, and are more likely to act out in class and struggle to make friends.
The nature of helicopter parenting also reduces children’s sense of autonomy and their confidence to face challenges independently. This could have long-term effects on their self-esteem. College students who had experienced such parenting styles were thus found to be more likely to have depression, anxiety, and lower life satisfaction.
On the other hand, children are more confident, more socially adept, and have better relationships with their parents if they are given space to explore and interact with their environment.
How do we strike a balance between being involved, and entrusting them with the freedom to navigate their world? Here are 5 tips on how we can avoid helicopter parenting, and still provide our children with the support that they need:
- Engage in conversation and listen actively
Talking calmly with your child, and really listening to (not just hearing) what they have to say, keeps communication open between you and your child. Active listening involves giving your child your full attention, and setting aside any biases or judgement that you may have as an adult speaking to a child. This will help you to understand both their needs and perspectives, while giving you the opportunity to provide them with reassurance and encouragement. Reasoning clearly with your child also fosters their critical thinking and communication skills.
- Observe your child first
An argument with a best friend or an unexpected grade on an essay? Watch to see how your child handles these moments of setbacks and frustration, before deciding if the situation requires your intervention. You may even be surprised by how resilient your child may be in the face of challenges. Let them know that you are there for them, but allow them to fight their own battles if necessary.
- Emphasise that setbacks are learning opportunities
We have all experienced failure, disappointment, and struggles at some point in our lives. These moments are inevitable, and it is thus important that children begin learning how to deal with them from an early age. By framing setbacks as valuable learning opportunities, your child will learn how to move on, work harder, and try again.
- Equip your child with problem solving skills
When a problem arises, help your child develop problem solving skills by asking them what they can do to solve it. Get them to explain to you what they have done, and what else they can work on. This allows them to think about solutions independently so that they will be better able to manage challenges in the future. Some day down the road, you’ll hear your child reassure you instead, “It’s okay! I’ve got this.”
- Take calculated risks
Make a list of what you are doing for your child, and what they should be doing for themselves. Take calculated risks, and allow your child to work on tasks that are both age and developmentally appropriate. Completing these tasks independently will give your child a boost of confidence, and help you build your trust in them.
Above all, your child needs you to be their positive role model. Following by example, they will learn to face challenges with confidence, pick themselves up when they fail, try again, and do greater things. They will learn to respect others, speak for themselves, and make fair decisions. They will learn to love, show others care and concern, and support them as you have done so. So have a bit of faith, and let your little (or maybe, not-so-little) one grow up to be their own person. It may not be easy, but it’ll definitely be worth it!
Brown, Amy. Commentary: Are you a helicopter parent? 25 July 2017. Electronic. 6 December 2018. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/lifestyle/commentary-are-you-a-helicopter-parent-9061156
Carlson, M. 10 Warning Signs That You Might Be a Helicopter Parent (And How to Stop). 2015. Electronic. 6 December 2018. https://afineparent.com/be-positive/helicopter-parent.html
Kropp, Merete. Five ways to avoid becoming a helicopter parent. 7 October 2016. Electronic. 6 December 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/10/07/five-ways-to-avoid-becoming-a-helicopter-parent/?utm_term=.f52d2a03f60b
Perry, Nicole, Shanahan, Lilly, Dollar, Jessica M., Calkins, Susan D., Keane, Susan P. “Childhood Self-Regulation as a Mechanism Through Which Early Overcontrolling Parenting Is Associated With Adjustment in Preadolescence”. 2018. Developmental Psychology, vol. 54, no. 8, p. 1542-1554.