By Jincy Dean
A growing national phenomenon of parents who overprotect and super-parent their children, has earned the uncomplimentary nickname of “helicopter parents”. While parental involvement is a key to a child’s success, at what point does a participating parent become a smother mother—or a following father?
The label “helicopter parents” is a new term but the phenomenon is not. There have always been parents who fit the description. They used to be called “overprotective parents”, but the idea of parents who hover over their children to shield them from possible distress is as old as parenting.
Today’s parents feel more empowered to question the authority of other adults whom their children encounter, such as coaches and teachers. The children’s lives have been orchestrated in such a way as to remove any chance for age-appropriate stress or an appropriate sense of failure. Overprotected children do not usually cope as well as those exposed to appropriate levels of stress and failure. When a parent allows a child to deal with their own failure and facing the natural consequences that come with making mistakes, the child builds an internal system that will equip then in the future to handle life’s challenges. Questioning is not a bad thing as long as parents are willing to listen and there is true dialogue.
Being an advocate for a child is a noble thing, but at a certain point, parents need to step back and let their children become advocates for themselves. This is the only way children will be able to take care of themselves as they grow to adulthood. Love your child for who they are, not what you want them to be.
Super-parents obsess over everything, from whether the child is learning fast enough or if the teacher gave your child a grade you didn’t approve of or how safe every single thing is to every little scrape and bruise. Your obsessive behavior is overwhelming to the child.
I admit, I was once that overprotective super-parent and hovered over my own children. I was convinced that it was my parenting responsibility. It was a habit difficult to break. I would like to share some of the things I’ve learned in hopes it may be helpful. Be forewarned that some of the suggestions take a very different approach to parenting than the traditional methods.
These methods will help you relax; will help your child feel freer and less controlled, more able to explore and learn on their own. When you get angry, pick them up and hug them. Instead of scolding or spanking or time outs or other controlling methods, try love. You are teaching your child through your actions rather than words.
Make this your mantra: treat them with kindness, treat them with respect. It’s surprising how little respect we give our children.
Drop your expectations of your child. Often parents have high hopes of the child doing well academically, or in sports, or becoming a professional, when that’s not what they want. Drop the expectations, and celebrate the child, as she is.
Let her play, let her explore. Stop being overprotective. Teach about safety and dangers, but set the child free to be a child. Say yes or some version of yes. Instead of saying no. “Yes, we can do that…but perhaps later, when I’m finished with what I’m doing”.
Stop overeducating, and move aside. Parents try to impart all kinds of knowledge on children. So do schools. But children learn naturally, without us. Instead encourage exploration.
Focus on positive interactions, pause and see the child’s perspective, and remember children are already perfect.
Now relax and enjoy every moment with your children. Cherish the time you have with them, make every moment a good one. You’ll never regret those moments of happiness.
Jincy Dean is the Regional Director for Christian Montessori Academy and a nationally recognized expert in early childhood development.