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


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


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jpfsmom jpfsmom

I agree and I hope to continue with my "free range" approach. The one I admit I struggle with is number is 2. We've been at the playground when a another kid was a little rough with him and I admit I see red but I normally take a backseat approach and only intervene when it gets too rough. I wish helicopter nation could get 4 tatooed on their forehead. My husband had a parent conference once a week because mommy's precious brat is in trouble in class and not doing their work yet it's my husband's fault because he is considered strict and the assigments are sooo hard. Really?

Fallaya Fallaya

What a great article!  

PonyC... PonyChaser

I'm a big proponent of being involved with the activities my son is involved in (I'm Cubmaster, for example), and enforcing the "free range" concept from that angle. One of my biggest pet-peeves is the Trophy Mentality... that every kid needs a trophy for every single thing he does. Our Pack used to give out trophies for participation in the Pinewood Derby!! Now, I understand that they were given because the committee was able to find them cheaper than purchasing a patch (!), but really? A trophy just for showing up???

We have switched to participation patches (which is fine, the kids wear them on their uniforms) and a trophy only for 1-3rd place.

I've also encountered situations where they don't keep score in baseball games, and give 1st place medals for wrestling and other activities... even when the kids KNOW they didn't give a first-place performance. To me, it's an insult to treat the kids this way, and I get on the committees to try to change those practices.

mjande4 mjande4

This is a great article!!

KenneMaw KenneMaw

This is a good article.  It is important to have a happy balance between being a parent and being yourself.   I know too many moms who are way too involved in their kids lifes - they go to school to 'help' 3-5x per week, have lunch in the cafeteria 3-5x per week, go on every field trip, stay to 'visit' with the other mom on playdates.....these kids never learn to be lone and be independent.   One day, these overprotected and over indulged children will be in the workplace - heaven help us!!!   

susan... susanne_1989

I have a friend who helicopters and has no idea she does it either.  I make my kids do their own homework and projects....that way they can say I did it myself and it give them confidence that they have earned their grade themself.  Being involved is good to a point....but not so much that kids can't make decisions for themselves and have to have their parents around to do anything and everything.  

They will never learn indpendence and to take care of themselves if we continually do everything for them.  This is what this artilce is saying.


nonmember avatar Jennifer M.

This goes along with my mommy motto...

I am raising men, and now a women, NOT children.

I want my children to have their own wings to fly not hide under mine.

lateb... latebloomerw4

I was married to a guy with a helicopter mom.... she's now doing it with the grandkids! ....THANK GOODNESS  we divorced and had no kids together (a quick "oh oh what did I do" 2 year marriage) She controls her adult kids as well as their kids. I come from an independent type of family. We all respect each others' differences and encourage independent decisions/styles. We don't always agree, but are just as good with agreeing to disagree. They say the family chain is only as strong as it's weakest link..... Let kids learn hardships and disapointments and they get stronger. I don't ever want to be a helicopter mom!

hilla... hillary819

Oh goodness, do you want a cookie? 

I was raised by a helicopter parent and I turned out fine. 

I'm what some would consider a helicopter parent and I know my kids will be fine as well.

The author and some commenters really do not understand the whole "helicopter" approach to parenting.  A lot of false assumptions can be made about "free range" parents and how their kids will turn out as well. 

This is just more garbage to fuel the mommy wars.

Misery Barnhardt

Oh sweet re...I got down to the part about parents filling out their kids resumes and i realized...My mum a serious helicopter parent. I'm constantly getting calls about interviews or open houses to colleges and it just confuses me.

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