No parent wants to be labeled a helicopter parent. The term originated in the late Sixties but started gaining in popularity a few decades later to describe the way Baby Boomer parents coddled their Millennial children and shielded them from any disappointments in life. Helicopter parenting stories ranged from parents (quite literally) hovering over their kids at the playground to calling their grown children’s college professors to protest a bad grade. A more laid-back method of parenting, known as free-range parenting, grew in popularity partially as a reaction to helicopter parents.
But what does being a helicopter parent really mean? In the most general sense, it means overparenting to the point where a parent’s behavior has a negative effect on a child’s growth. And no good parent wants to do that. Here are a few ways to make sure your parenting techniques don’t cross the line from helpful to hovering.
Don’t spoil them.
There are a two main helicopter parent camps: the overachieving “Tiger Moms” and the well-meaning enablers. If you fall in the latter camp, you want the best for your child and go to great lengths to avoid him getting upset. This means you often give in to your child’s demands and don’t enforce a lot of rules to keep the peace. Why face a tantrum when you can just make your kid happy by giving him a third cookie? But in the long run you’re doing him a disservice, since he won’t know how to interact with other authority figures in his life, such as his sitters and teachers.
Let them make choices.
Now, obviously a child should not be allowed to decide that it’s OK to run into the street or hit his baby brother. But if he wants to be in the school play instead of on the baseball team — or do neither — you should respect his decision. Little ones should be encouraged to make smaller choices, such as what shoes to wear or what bedtime books to read. It’s also important not to dictate who your child can be friends with, as long as they’re not getting into any dangerous situations. Even if you feel you know what’s “best” for your child, decision-making is an important skill for them to develop as they grow up.
Help them deal with the consequences of their actions.
When children are allowed to make choices, they sometimes make bad ones. These experiences contribute to the growth of their decision-making abilities mentioned above. Did your child skip studying and get a bad grade on a test? Don’t scold them — and don’t scold yourself either. Talk it over and use it as a learning experience to prevent it from happening again.
Don’t overschedule them.
“Play is the work of children,” famed educator Maria Montessori once said. If you have Tiger Mom tendencies, it’s important to fight the urge to sign your child up for classes every day of the week. School-age children already have a lot of structure in their lives during the school day; loading them up with activities after school and on weekends may simply overload them. An hour at the playground helps them unwind and is just as good for their intellectual growth in the long run.
Deal with bullies carefully.
So you took our advice and you’re at the playground…and you spot a kid pushing your kid aside to get on the slide first. Your initial urge might be to swoop in and get your child out of there, or even discipline the other child with a few stern words. Try to wait a minute and see how your child resolves the situation by himself before you step in. He might be more capable of working through these kinds of issues than you think.
Examine your own feelings.
There are certain triggers that can turn even the most well-meaning parent into a helicopter parent. Does a low grade feel disastrous, especially if you could have prevented it? Are you overcompensating because of negative experiences you had as a child with your own parents? Do you feel peer pressure or competition from other parents and want to make sure your child is the “best” at everything he does? Self-reflection is key to having a happy, healthy relationship with your child, and feeling happy about yourself as a parent as well.