Stop It With the Helicopter Parenting

Back off. Let kids fail; Let them fall from trees and get Bs and Cs.

The era of the helicopter parent must end now. Parents are stifling their kids. The evidence is clear. Young adults are leaving home completely unprepared for the world. Parents who do everything for their kids and keep tabs on their every move can be as bad as those who completely neglect their children’s upbringing.

25 odd years ago, when I was in college, the worst I saw was kids who embraced their newfound freedom by taking up smoking and binge drinking. Of course those are not good practices, but what we see now is worse.

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Helicopter parent, Tiger mom, bubble wrapper; whatever name you give it, all the research is screaming at us to stop, post haste!

Stories of suicides at college keep popping up in the news. Young students leave home unable to cope with daily life without a parent guiding them. I, personally, know of half a dozen kids who have left their universities to return home, feeling completely ill-equipped to cope with independent daily life. I know of two students who had to be hospitalized for depression due to these issues and one who attempted suicide.

Unfortunately, most of these tragic stories, whether conveyed through the grapevine or from the media, do nothing but alarm parents. They don’t advise parents on how to better prepare their kids for life away from home.

We also hear amusing stories of parents accompanying adult children to job interviews, parents calling their child’s boss to complain about overwork, and young adults who show up to jury duty with a parent in tow. None of these actions are appropriate behaviors for the parents or children. The helicopter style of parenting is born from love and anxiety on the part of the parent, but it is misguided and not a positive way to raise kids.

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Parents who are already hovering need a manual to land the helicopter and step away from the blades cutting their kids off at the knees. It’s almost never too late to learn how to help your kids help themselves.

My eldest son is at the cusp of adulthood. He will graduate from high school in May. I feel confident, though, that my husband and I have done our best to prepare him for college and beyond.

I have never been a helicopter parent. I didn’t set out to compose my parenting method to avoid helicopter parenting, it was just my style to back off and let my kids be kids. I was exhausted in my formative parenting years. None of my four sons slept through the night until they were well into toddlerhood, on the move and active, and by then, I was just too tired to be involved in their play all day. Of course I played with them and guided them, but I also happily stepped back and gave them space to learn.

 

I remember taking my first born to a playdate at the playground when he was a mobile toddler. I parked myself on a bench and let him have the run of the small, closed-off area. I knew he couldn’t escape and I enjoyed watching him climb, jump and tumble around the equipment, cushioned by wood chips. I anticipated having a chat with my friend while our little ones burned off some energy in the sun.

I was dismayed when she never sat down. Not once! She followed her toddler throughout every inch of the playground. She didn’t just stroll around, watching. She climbed the ladder behind her child, and then dashed around to catch the precious package at the bottom of the slide. When I eventually gave up on sitting and stood to follow my friend so that we could at least get some adult conversation in, I knew that her style was not only never going to be mine, but also that it was probably doing more harm than good.

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Fast forward 17 years and I can see a clear difference between kids whose parents hover and pull the puppet strings and kids with parents who give them the tools to make good choices and help themselves. Kids with helicopter parents struggle to find their way.  Their parents become a crutch to get through even the smallest obstacles in life.

There are simple ways to help your kids grow and blossom. They may stumble and fall. They might even get hurt, but you can be pretty sure that they’ll get up, brush themselves off, and move on in a better direction.

My fourth son is seven years old.  I know that I’ve given him tools to think and act for himself.  I advised him to stop doing something I perceived as dangerous and he responded by saying, “Mom, don’t worry, I won’t get hurt, and if I do, I’ll learn my lesson and won’t do it that way next time.”

 

Helpful tips for every stage of parenting

1. If you are still in your early days of parenting, do yourself and your children a favor by letting them play independently. Help your child learn to entertain himself. If you are your child’s sole source of entertainment, not only will you will never get time to yourself, but your child will come to depend on you every minute of his day and feel helpless when you are not available to give your undivided attention. If you give your child the tools he needs to safely play, explore and even take a tumble, he will grow more independent and confident. You can do this from the time he can sit up, or even earlier. Sit your child on a blanket, surround him with toys and books, and step out of his sight. Watch as he plays, happily. If he cries, looking for you, step into his line of sight and verbally reassure him, before stepping out of sight again. By doing this, you show him he can count on you but that he doesn’t need you every second.

2. If you child is a bit older, make a list of activities she can do on her own, so that when she approaches you to request your help, you are ready with ideas for her.  Suggestions include: Read a book, draw, write a story, build a fort, play a game (if a sibling is available), dance to music, build a city of Legos…  You get the idea.

3. School aged children should be capable of, and expected to do, homework independently.  Of course they might have questions from time to time, but if you feel as though they are using you as a crutch, set up a homework space in an area of the house where you are not readily available. Or, simply remove yourself from the situation. Say that you have to start making dinner, you are working on something else and cannot help right now, anything to give your child the time and space to see that he can do it on his own. This is one of the most important skills you can help your child develop to ensure success as the move through school and beyond.

Also, step away from the poster board and rubber cement. Let your kid do his own science experiment or diorama or oral report. Sure, it would probably look nicer if you did it, but then it’s yours, not his. He can’t take pride in something he didn’t do. As a teacher, I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that we can tell when the parent did the bulk of the work. If you do your kid’s project, you are essentially teaching him he can’t do it himself. Just don’t.

4. As children enter middle school and move through more challenging coursework, they will, of course, need help from time to time. If you edit their work, you do them no favors if you do not include them in the process. Make your child sit with you and be a part of the editing process so that she can learn to do it herself. You won’t be sitting next to her in her dorm room when she has to write a paper, so teach her now to do it well, and on her own.

5. When your kid runs into trouble dealing with a teacher or another kid, don’t rush to make a phone call, send an email or meet with the teacher/parent. Teach your child how to handle the situation. If you start teaching your child to advocate for himself when your he is young, you will stand and watch, with pride, when he tells you about something that went wrong and then goes on to explain how he has already settled it. It is these priceless moments that give you an inkling that you’ve done your job and your child will be well equipped to go out into the world. (Caveat: I always make sure my children know they can ask me for help if the issue gets to a point at which they don’t know what to do.)

6. Let them fail… This is the hardest part of parenting and the fear of it is the cause of most helicopter parenting. Parents who hover do so out of love and anxiety. They worry about their kids. We all do. The difference is in how to handle it. If you let your little one fall and skin his elbow, show him how to wash it, put on a band-aid for him and send him on his way. If your 4th grader fails a test, ask him why he thinks he failed. The right answer is, “I didn’t study/do my homework/listen in class.” Help him see that his actions have consequences. Follow up with a question to direct him to the solution of how to avoid the failure next time. He will get there, I promise! Better to let him fail early and help him learn how to succeed in the future. The future comes sooner than you can imagine.

The bottom line is, give your child freedom and chances to build confidence from very early on and it will become second nature to both you and your child.

If you follow your 2 year old around the playground and never let him fall, he won’t learn how to get up, brush himself off and move on.

If you do your child’s science fair project for him, he won’t know how to get his hands dirty, put in the hard work, and feel the pride that comes from hard work.

If you fight your child’s battles at school, he won’t learn how to advocate for himself and when he goes to college and encounters a stick in the mud professor who won’t budge on a response to an ambiguous test question, he’ll want to call you to help.

Let me be clear: college professors DO NOT want to hear from parents; neither do admissions officers. Teach your kids to be strong advocates for themselves. Teach them to do the hard work. Teach them to stand up for what is right.

Parenting is the one job that, when done right, you are sure to lose after 18-21 odd years. Embrace it. Step away from the helicopter and give your kids room to fly on their own.

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About Commander in Chief At home

Erin is a military spouse and, sometimes temporarily single mom to 4 boys. She's a parenting coach, writer, teacher, special needs (Autism) mom, and much more.
This entry was posted in No Nonsense Parenting and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

56 Responses to Stop It With the Helicopter Parenting

  1. Elaina Cheever says:

    Very well written Erin and I agree 100%

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  2. Kerry says:

    Brilliant article Erin, I had to sit on my hands in the park when mine was little as I so wanted to wrap her up in cotton wool!

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  3. Linda says:

    Very well said. I wish parents would consider the consequences before basically telling their kids that they shouldn’t try to do anything for themselves and always need a parent or authority figure to help them. I do some of the hiring for the company that I work for, and I have actually had parents call for information on their children’s progress through the process. Thank goodness I can usually cite privacy laws as a reason not to give out the information. It really does seem like it’s just getting worse as we go along.

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  4. Nicola Tweed says:

    I love that, ‘let them fail’. I am 8 months pregnant and I lap up all the advice I can get, so thank you!!! I agree with you, you can only protect your child so much before you actually smoother them.

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  5. Missy says:

    Lots of great advice here and I like how you broke it down by stage and or school years. I don’t have kids, but do have nieces and nephews which I see quite a bit and this info is/was great to know. Thank you!!!

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  6. Julie S. says:

    I do agree! While my situation wasn’t that severe, my parents were pretty helicoptery and I didn’t have all my independent skills when I left home. I’m trying to raise my little to be more independent, starting with him learning to self-soothe and play on his own without me constantly being hands-on. Great post!

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  7. What an amazing post. I don’t have children but I have seen my friends being very good parents instilling decision making skills and consequences to action skills. Or being at the scene where their child’s every action is watched and responded to. If find the latter to be much more jumpy and nervous about their children.

    I agree we want children to become independent thinkers so we have to start teaching them from a very young age how to socially manage situations and think about actions in terms of consequences. Truly enjoyed the read.

    Rachel

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  8. BellyBytes says:

    What splendid advice! i am sure you’ve raised fine young men who are responsible and loving. Perhaps being in a military family helped shape your parenting style. I grew up in a military family and often we were a single parent raised family. My mom worked as a teacher so she was pretty much out of our hair. And my brother and I did just fine growing up with supervision from afar and since we weren’t watched over , we learnt to fend for ourselves, learnt to be responsible and appreciate our parents for allowing us to be ourselves.

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  9. shannonarce says:

    I agree – I am not a helicopter parent. I want my kids to be successful by themselves and not depend on me. I love them dearly and will help them when they need it but want them to learn to resolve their own conflicts and not need me all the time. Someday they are going to grow up and be on their own and I want to help them be ready for that!

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  10. My daughter’s only 2, but I’m constantly being asked by other parents how it is that she’s able to play by herself like she does, or play with kids of all ages so well, or work out social situations with others on her own…the answer is what you wrote about here. Even though she and I do a LOT of things together during the day, I am not trying to keep her constantly occupied and am not constantly ferrying her from one activity to another outside the house!

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  11. kentuckyatheartblog says:

    Amen! As a former high school teacher I saw so many students come into my Life Skills class with absolutely no knowledge of how to survive in the real world. Now, I work at a hospital in finance and I have so many parents, whose children are now grown adults, yet the mother still calls to take care of the “child’s” hospital bill. They do not like it at all when I tell them that I can’t talk to them because their child is now and adult, I have to speak to the actual patient! I totally agree that parents are not doing their children any favors by doing everything for them.

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  12. This a very well written post. I try desperately to not be a helicopter parent. In some ways, I am one because of my own terrible upbringing. I believe you are 110% right though!!

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  13. Stacy says:

    I think the problem is that society these days almost demands helicopter parenting. We have fostered our three nieces three times now, the longest period was for 9 months. During that time, we desperately wanted to keep them in our home because the alternative was being around an abusive father, a negligent mother, and a sexually abusive step-brother. Every time, they still gave the girls back to their mom. It made no sense to me especially since I read so many articles about CPS taking kids away from parents because the kids were playing at the park by themselves (within mom’s view from the house) or they were playing on the street in front of the house (again within parent’s view). Those crazy situations make it feel as though you have to have your kids within arm’s length at all times. I agree 100% that it needs to stop. It is benefiting no one. These children are our future. They need to know how to navigate the bright, beautiful world on their own.

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  14. This is a great reminder and a great post!! I’m not really a helicopter parent yet, but I think it is something I’m going to struggle with as the boys get older. Right now, they are just 2 years old and 6 months old and I’m home with them all the time. But I do give them plenty of time for independently play and exploring. Thanks for writing this!

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  15. Laura Cyra says:

    Well said! We all need to get our of our own way and let the kids find their own path and who they are on their own. I try to put myself in my kids shoes everytime I try to helicopter and realize I’m not doing anyone any good, because if my parents would of done that to me I would of hated it. Great tips, thanks for sharing!

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  16. This is a great reminder to let kids be kids. No need to hover or keep them from experiencing struggles and hard time during childhood.

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  17. phoward336 says:

    Good advice – it’s hard to watch your children fail – especially when you know you could “fix it” for them, but better to fail when they are young at small things, and learn how to deal with it, then to fail later in life and not be able to handle it.

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  18. shelahmoss says:

    You have so many great points about being a helicopter parent. I was guilty of that when my daughter was young. Fortunately, my mother told me to cut it out and my daughter has become so much more independent and confident since I stopped.

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  19. Leila says:

    Yes yes yes! I have never been one to helicopter. I may have been more vigilant with my oldest when she was little, but I was never one to hover. They will never learn about life if we protect them from everything. Yes, they may fall. Yes, they may get hurt. But such is life. They need to experience it for themselves. There is a difference between keeping them safe, teaching them what’s safe and hovering them without letting them experience anything.

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  20. Jennifer C. says:

    It is important to let kids fail, to learn on their own, to make their own way in the world.

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  21. Parenting is one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. It is so hard to know when to step in and rescue and when to let them fall. Now that mine is an adult with his own child, I’m seeing the rewards. Thanks for the reminder to all those parents out there. I think I know a few people I’ll be sending this link to 😉

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  22. Pingback: Blogelina Commentathon – Group A | Blogelina

  23. dailymomtivity1 says:

    Bubble wrapper, that’s a funny one! I do let my daughter fail at things, I think that is important! She’s only 7 so I do keep her in a bit of a ‘bubble’. I feel like there are so many bad things going on in the world and she doesn’t need to know/hear/see everything. There’s plenty of time for that later on!

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  24. bex stark says:

    love this post! I wish more people felt this way.

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  25. Great article! I think it is so important for children to learn independence.

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  26. So many parents want to shelter their kids, but doing everything for your kids is not the answer. Parents need to let kids explore and learn for themselves. It can be hard, but we have to help them be independent.

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  27. Myriam says:

    Never heard of the term helicopter parent before but was never really one. I was not raised like one and it was natural for me to set my kiddos free. Letting them fail is one that I am letting my teenage boy learn the hard way. Of course, we are keeping an eye on things but give them room for to learn on their own.

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  28. Miranda says:

    Thank you SO much for this! I don’t understand helicopter parenting at all. Yes, I homeschool, so I guess I am more active in my child’s day to day life than some, but still. Last year I was at the park with my kiddos, and there was a couple who were hovering over every single move their toddler was making. I mean, climbing the steps with him, not letting him go down the slide. It was crazy. And then they were giving me the most evil looks because I dared to let my 2 year old run all over the playground and climb the structures by herself and actually be a kid! Some people just crack me up!

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  29. My hubby and I working hard to raise 3 independent children. So often it would be easier just to do everything myself but that just makes it worst, because they will never learn from those mistakes and just keep repeating them.

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  30. I grew up the oldest in a family of 6 kids in a part of the country where things were more laid back. So even before I had kids myself I knew I would be more of a laid-back mom. I also stumbled upon the blog Free Range Kids many years ago (before I became a mom) and I’m so glad I did. That blog gave me the courage to raise my kids the way I always knew I’d want to raise them and not as the helicopter parent society was seeming to deem as “normal”.

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  31. Lisa says:

    I just don’t understand the helicopter concept–I love watching my kids learn new things and soar on their own. They don’t need me every second o the day!
    Great post, with very practical tips!

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  32. Amen!!! I have young children but I know that they need to learn to play on their own, figure things out by themselves and so on. It’s sad to see so many parents not letting kids be kids and discover the world.

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  33. Oh yes! I have an 8 month old and I totally feel you. She already plays by herself well but knows I’m around if she yells or looks at me and smiles.

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  34. Great post! I agree, we are definitely in a generation of parents being there every step of the way for their children and protecting them no matter what. Although this is great in some ways because it means we are supportive, it also enables our children to be co-dependant. It’s so hard to know where to draw the line of being supportive or just too intrusive. Great list of tips for all helicopter parents alike!

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  35. I was a teacher and saw the effects of helicopter parenting. I have a toddler and I have been trying to make it a point not to be a helicopter parent. I don’t find your post judgmental or proud at all and giving tips on how to let our child be independent and how to help us parents not to be helicopter parents is really helpful. Thank you.

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  36. mmgmom says:

    My three girls who are all now teenagers actually thank us for not handing everything to them. They have learned that if you want something you must work for it. I think that helicopter parents are only hurting the child in the long run instead of protecting them.

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  37. marie says:

    Well written and spot on. We try hard not to be helicopter parents, though I’m sure there are times we’ve failed. So far they seem to be doing well. We have one in college and another graduating this year. We’re there if they need help, but not to hold their hand every step of the way when they can do it themselves.

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  38. ChristyK says:

    SO true! Thanks for encouraging parents to let their kids do things for themselves sometimes. It really does need to be said. Thankfully, our little 2 year old is quite independent just like her daddy and we have learned first-hand to let her do things on her own a lot because that is how she learns. It is amazing to watch! I love it. 😉

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  39. NikkiRaeInk says:

    This is hard for me. My two year old stumbled at the playground when she was one and cut her forehead open. It looked like a scene from a horror film, there was quite a bit of blood and she needed stitches. So yeah, I’m a little anxious but I don’t want to coddle her either. It’s definitely a balance.

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  40. Vance Leeson says:

    Great blog! I am loving it!! Will be back later to read some more. I am bookmarking your feeds also

    Like

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