With the dawn of the new age, parenting keeps on getting updated in several ways. Some people may prefer a certain way of raising their kids. Others may choose something else entirely. But how can we decide what works well and what won’t? There is never a straight and easy answer for the same. And one popular choice is what we consider as helicopter parenting. It is a style of parenting where parents are “overly focused on their children.” They typically take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures. This parenting most often applies to parents who help high school or college-aged students with tasks they’re capable of doing alone (for instance, calling a professor about poor grades, arranging a class schedule, or managing exercise habits). But really, helicopter parenting can apply at any age. It’s natural for parents to do whatever they can to keep their children safe and healthy, but children need space to learn and grow on their own, without Mom or Dad hovering over them.
Research shows that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment. Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends, and struggle in school. Children rely on caregivers for guidance and understanding of their emotions. They need parents who are sensitive to their needs, who recognize when they are capable of managing a situation and who will guide them when emotional situations become too challenging. This helps children develop the ability to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and leads to better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships, and academic success. Managing emotions and behavior are fundamental skills that all children need to learn and overcontrolling parenting can limit those opportunities.
Helicopter parenting behavior includes parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime, and being too strict or demanding. The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration. Overcontrolling parenting when a child was 2 was associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5, researchers found. Conversely, the greater a child’s emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10. Similarly, by age 10, children with better impulse control were less likely to experience emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school. Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments.
So how can a parent care for their children without inhibiting their ability to learn essential life skills? As parents, we have a very difficult job. We need to keep one eye on our children now—their stressors, strengths, and emotions—and one eye on the adults we are trying to raise. Getting them from here to there involves some suffering, for our kids as well as for us.In practical terms, this means letting children struggle, allowing them to be disappointed, and helping them to work through failure. It also means letting your children do the tasks they’re physically and mentally capable of. Remembering to look for opportunities to take one step back from solving our child’s problems will help us build the resilient, self-confident kids we need.