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How To Avoid Helicopter Parenting

Learn to support your child without 'hovering' over them

By now, we all probably know that ‘helicopter parenting’ (‘hovering’ over a child, micromanaging their every move) is bad. It can lead to serious problems for your child, including:

  • Poor problem-solving skills
  • Poor social development
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Problems with emotional control
  • Lessened creativity

Ouch.

On the other end of the scale, however, are numerous studies showing that ‘distant’ and uninvolved parenting can have similarly traumatic consequences, and child-development experts everywhere recommend lots of quality interaction, support, and demonstrations of love between parent and child. So where is one to draw the line? How does one protect, cherish, and support one’s child without ‘helicoptering’? We have a few suggestions…

Watch your child without hovering over
Parents have to recognise the fine line between 'hovering' over their child
and being rightly protective and supportive, which is not an easy task.

Don’t ‘Helicopter’, ‘Submarine’

It’s important to protect your child, and to help them through the challenges they’ll face in life. However, it’s worth remembering that childhood is, essentially, training for adulthood.There’s a big and essential difference between supporting your kid through their challenges, and taking on those challenges for them. Let’s see how a ‘helicopter’ parent and a ‘submarine’ parent deal with a playground situation.

A ‘helicopter’ in this scenario perpetually hovers around their child, stepping in to tie their shoelaces, to defend them, to steer the game in ‘safe’ directions...basically, to run their child’s life for them. This is too much.

The ‘submarine’, on the other hand, sits unobtrusively and lets their child conduct their own play. They keep a watchful eye on proceedings, and are available to provide kisses for grazed hands, and admonitions for bad behavior, but they generally keep out of it. The helicopter tries to control the play. The submarine doesn’t actively interfere unless it’s absolutely necessary to do so. But how are you to know what’s ‘necessary’ and what isn’t?

Allow your children to conduct their own play
'Submarine parenting' involves keeping a watchful eye on your children while
they play and intervening only when needed. (Image by Pixabay.com)

Understand the Difference Between Neglecting Your Child, and Letting Your Child Learn

Involving yourself in your child’s play is important. A ‘submarine’ who goes too deep, and never breaks the surface of the metaphorical water to engage with their child is being neglectful, and harming their child’s emotional development. However, there’s a big difference between neglect, and letting your child learn through experience.

There are definitely times when a parent needs to manage their child’s life. Parental responsibility is pretty far-reaching, and sometimes a parent will be faced with a situation in which they need to exert a certain element of control over their child for their own good. Similarly, it’s a very good idea for any parent to give their child affection, to play with them, and to lend a helping hand as their child progresses through life.

The trick is to understand when the help and management you’re offering isn’t actually necessary. Here’s the thing: we learn through our mistakes. Allowing your kid to go their own way and encounter a few setbacks ensures that they’ll develop the coping skills they need to sail through the larger problems of adulthood.

Trying to protect your child from larger problems (predatory individuals, malnutrition, and so on) is laudable. Trying to protect them from absolutely everything is damaging. So, be available for your child, and offer them plenty of love - but don’t do something for them if they’re capable of doing it themselves. You can, of course, help them to do it themselves, but it’s crucial that you aren’t actually taking over and controlling the learning process.

Practice 'submarine parenting'
Allow your child to have their own fun, to socialze and interact with others,
while you stay in the background to be 'on hand' when needed.

Don’t Pre-Empt

Give love. Give comfort. Give help. But don’t pre-empt. If you’re on hand to offer comfort and solace when your child is upset, that’s fantastic. And it’s important that your child knows that they can always count on your unconditional love and support. But if you’re swooping in to smother your child in love and sweep anticipated issues away before they even encounter them, you’re being a helicopter. Sure, if something’s likely to cause the kind of upset which will harm your child long-term, do everything in your power to prevent it.

Otherwise, however, your job is to help your child to deal with their own issues. You can do this by demonstrating love, and giving emotional support, and taking care of the parts of the equation that they can’t handle themselves. But you’re not there to actively eradicate any problem they might encounter. Keep them safe, keep them loved, but let them work things out for themselves. They’ll be happier adults as a result.

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