6 Ways to Break the Helicopter Parent Habit Before It's Too Late

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helicopterWe watch them hover over their kids at the playground and during playdates, birthday parties, and parent day at school. We scoff at them, shrink from them – or perhaps, deep down inside, we must admit, we are them: helicopter parents. That brand of mom or dad who is just way too involved in every detail of their kids lives.

Surely, however, at some point helicopter parents back off, though, right? When their kids start middle school, or high school, or even college, those parents probably retreat to a safe distance, allowing their children to make their own decisions (good or bad) and forge their own paths (meandering or direct). Don't they?

Alas, a recent NPR story indicates that, in fact, they (we) may not back off, continuing to hover and micromanage their 20-something kids' lives … even as those kids seek jobs as adults! 

Yes, human resource managers say that, increasingly, they are seeing parents sending prospective employers' their kids' resumes (sometimes without the kids' knowledge!), contacting employers to advocate for their kids to be hired or to be given better pay or benefits, and even going with their kids to their job interviews! I know, CRAZY! And sad.

And also truly a cautionary tale to all of us parents of younger kids. We need to nip our helicopter habits in the bud NOW before it's too late. Here are a few ways to do that:

1.    Keep a respectful distance during playtime: Sometimes it's great to be actively involved and in there playing with your kid. That's a big reward of parenting – and it's important to have the solid bond you enhance through productive play. Kids also learn valuable lessons through play: how to win and lose gracefully, just for instance (so don't let them win every time!). But kids also need to learn to amuse themselves and to solve problems on their own. Be there to back them up and to offer guidance, if they ask for it, but let them test their own limits through play. You – and they – may realize they're capable of more than you realize.

2.    Let your kid try to settle disputes with other kids: Instead of intervening to help your kid work out a dispute with another kid, take your kid aside to discuss ways he or she might resolve the situation on his or her own, without you stepping into the middle. This way it's not just one issue that's resolved, but an approach to issues that has been taught and learned. That's a great life skill to have.

3.    Let your kid do his or her own work:
Whether it's school work or helping out around the house, kids need to take an active role in their development and learning -- and in their household. Give your kid chores to do around the house. (Taking out the garbage, perhaps, or helping to set the table – or even simply keeping his or her own room clean.) And then reinforce their hard work with sincere praise. (No need to go overboard.) Also teach confidence and autonomy by letting your kid do his or her own schoolwork. (You can be there to offer guidance and support, of course.) They need to learn from doing – and they won't learn if you're the one doing all the heavy lifting.

4.    Don't try to intervene with teachers or school administrators unless it's really necessary: Obviously, if there's a serious issue to discuss with your child's teacher or the school administrator, that's something you've got to do. But if it's really not a big deal, don't rush in to intervene right away. Try to let your kid resolve the issue on his or her own. And if that doesn't work, by all means, have a chat with the teacher. But do realize that your kid is going to need to learn to work with all sorts of people, in all sorts of situations. You might do better by advising him or her how to cope, rather than making sure the world around him adjusts to his or her (or your) wishes.

5.    Let your kid learn from setbacks: In life, everything doesn't always go our way. You need to keep your kid safe from hurt and harm, but it's not always necessary to protect kids from every disappointment. If he doesn't make the team this year? Well, he might just learn to work harder toward a goal, and get double the satisfaction of making it next year.

6.    Develop interests of your own:
Having your own interests and activities can keep you from getting too wrapped up in those of your kid, fostering independence -- for both of you. What's more, you're modeling good behavior for your child at the same time.

Do you worry about becoming a helicopter parent to your kid – and what the long-term effects might be?


Image via rkelland/Flickr