Helicopter Parenting: How to Stop Hovering So Kids Can Fly Free
Hey, have you heard the one about the mom who called her son’s college professor to dispute a low grade? Or the one who accompanied her recently graduated daughter to a job interview?
Sadly, these stories aren’t jokes. Scenarios like these happen every day.
Parents who tend to hover over their kids are commonly referred to as “helicopter parents.” Although the term is often used to describe parents who take on tasks their older children are capable of doing for themselves, helicopter parenting can—and usually does—begin when those children are much younger.
Why Do Parents Hover?
Helicopter parents are (to put it bluntly) overinvolved, overprotective and overanxious. They try to exercise control over every aspect of their kids’ lives in an effort to protect them from making mistakes or experiencing sadness, disappointment and frustration.
Though they may be well-intentioned, these folks think that by protecting their kids in this way, they’re fulfilling their roles as loving and caring parents. In reality, helicopter parenting can have a negative impact on kids and their development.
Parents’ reasons for hovering are varied, but can include:
- Feeling responsible for their children’s behavior and feelings. These parents believe that if they can control their children’s lives and create a stress-free experience for them, their kids will be happier. To them, happy kids = good parenting.
- Anxiety over seeing their kids upset. No parent likes to see his or her child unhappy. Parents hover to guard their kids against feeling troubled in any way.
- Anxiety over feeling unneeded. Many parents enjoy the feeling of being needed. Some even unconsciously thwart their kids’ independence to ensure they will be reliant on them. These parents may experience increased anxiety as their children become teens and begin to naturally venture out on their own.
- They assume more is better. Imagine that you had never cared for a plant before. You might think, “Hey, if watering a plant is good, won’t it grow bigger if I water it more?” Helicopter parents often mistakenly believe the more they protect their kids and involve themselves in their children’s lives, the better off their children will be.
Hovering’s Negative Effects
Helicopter parents fail to notice when they cross the line—or to understand the consequences of their behavior on their children: dependency, anxiety, low self-confidence, poor coping skills, and a sense of entitlement.
Dependency – Since kids of helicopter parents are so sheltered, they don’t learn to behave independently. They lack the skills necessary to function autonomously and depend on others to take care of them (emotionally, financially, and in other ways).
Anxiety and Low Self-Confidence – Helicopter parents send their kids the message that they aren’t capable of handling situations on their own. As a result, their children often have high levels of anxiety and low self-confidence.
Poor Coping Skills – Kids who are shielded from experiencing negative consequences or emotions have a low tolerance for frustration. They don’t know how to deal with stress and easily become overwhelmed in stressful situations.
Sense of Entitlement – Some kids who have had their every need met by their parents believe they are deserving of special treatment by everyone in their lives and come to expect it. When they don’t receive it, they sometimes throw tantrums (or act out) to try to get their way.
How to Stop Hovering
Hopefully, reading about the negative effects of helicopter parenting is enough to encourage you to back off a bit. But if you still find yourself hovering, follow the advice offered here.
Shift your thinking. Stop thinking you’re a bad parent if your kids aren’t happy. Every struggle is truly an opportunity for growth and learning. Protecting them only robs them of the experience to learn from the consequences of their choices. Overcoming adversity can lead to higher self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment. The sooner kids learn how to deal with hardship, the better equipped they’ll be to handle life’s difficulties moving forward.
Calm your anxiety. If you’re an overly anxious person, seek help from your primary doctor or a mental health professional. When behavior and decisions are driven by anxiety, the result is often the very one you’re trying to avoid. Kids feel safer, too, when the adults in their lives are calm and composed. So, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Back off slowly. When you’re used to hovering, it can feel scary to stop. I advise you to take it slowly. Start by teaching and allowing your child to do something for himself that you usually do for him. Let him struggle with the task rather than jumping in to help. Instead of trying to fix what’s wrong, empathize by saying, “It can be really disappointing when you don’t get what you want.”
As you begin to appropriately hand over control, you empower your children to care for themselves and to become more responsible people. And don’t worry: You’ll always be needed as a loving, guiding adult who encourages and supports them through life’s ups and downs!
Do you struggle with hovering and want some help to stop? Check out my private coaching services here.
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A version of this post was first published in StepMom Magazine in October, 2015.