What Helicopter Parenting Does To Your Child

We all want our children to succeed and do well. And keep them safe. However, there is such a concept as doing too much, too often. Do you think that you might be making that mistake with your child?

By Sriram Naganathan  • 10 min read

What Helicopter Parenting Does To Your Child
Hovering is unlikely to produce the best results

Are you watching over what your child is doing and not doing, every day?

Do you plan and schedule most of your child’s activities?

Do you actually do and not merely help with the homework your child is supposed to do?

If your child is at home and if you are away, do you call her (or someone who is at home) from your cell phone every now and then to check what she is up to?

If your answer is ‘Yes’ to these questions and if you are wondering what can possibly be wrong with your actions, watch out! You are in a psychological danger zone: you could be a ‘helicopter parent’, causing more harm than good to your child!

Dr Foster W Cline and co-author Jim Fay, coined the term ‘Helicopter Parent’ while discussing ineffective parenting styles in their book Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. Helicopter parenting may appear to arise out of love and affection for the child, but is actually rooted in a perceived insecurity about the child’s future.

Such a parent will not accept the child’s failure in anything and hence, will not let the child learn from his or her own mistakes. Like helicopters, such parents hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not.

What helicopter parenting can do to your child

You may have the best of intentions, but being overprotective has serious long-term consequences. Experts say that children need to learn to cope with failures to be effective in life. Sadly, this is out of the question for a helicopter parent.

What it does to you

Being an over-involved parent will eventually drive you nuts. Studies have shown that helicopter parents reported more sadness, negative beliefs about themselves, and less joy and contentment, irrespective of whether their children were ‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’.

Consider yourself a helicopter parent if you:

  • Feel ashamed when your child fails, or fails to meet expectations, either yours or others.
  • Fight your child's battles for her, such as protesting an unfair grade or score, in a test.
  • Take over your child's projects and homework.
  • Are preoccupied with the details of your child's activities, practice sessions, schedules or  performances and only talk about these issues with your spouse.

What to do if you think you are a helicopter parent

Expand your care: This should be the first remedial action. Try to include your child’s friends — either from his class or from the neighbourhood or elsewhere — within your ‘I care’ limit. For example, take them all out on a picnic and be attentive to everyone. Your child is unlikely to complain; the chances are that he will be proud of you.

Help your child cope with anxiety: What if your child already expects you to act on her behalf most of the time? Well, you have a tough job on hand. Ask her to define the problem (in her own words) and come up with solutions, rather than attempting to manage it for her. It could be as simple as seeking the meaning for a word from the dictionary (you are not one! The dictionary is on the shelf and open to all!)

You could even ask the child to create a drawing of the problem. This gives the child a purpose, maybe even a distraction and something for her to do. Try it out a few times, and then she may not need your help in sorting out many issues.

A note of caution: You should, of course, know what is best left to the child and what is not, to sort out. Think it through.

Do not take on your child's projects or home work: Every parent is tempted to make his child's project the best one ever, but it's more important to let children learn to do things on their own. In fact, if the school overplays the parental role in projects, lodge a protest. Offer encouragement but minimal help. A typical helicopter parent worries that if the child does not do well in primary school, he will not do well in life later! There is absolutely no evidence to justify this anxiety. 

Limit your curiosity about what happened in school: If your child is not forthcoming about what is going on at school, drop the matter. It’s okay. Do not grill her with questions like “What happened during the second period today?” If you have a concern, do not barrage the class teacher with phone calls. If you do notice behavioural changes for the worse, seek a meeting instead.

Keep an annual ‘independence’ checklist: Parenting is all about training children to acquire capabilities to live well when we are not around. And we will be certainly gone one day! So, allow them to gradually take their lives into their own hands. Is your child less dependent on you this year than she was last year? Can you mention a few activities that she does without your help now? What activities do you want her to do by herself next year on her own?

Remember, the antidote to helicopter parenting is not uninvolved or passive parenting. Parental involvement, in the right measure, always matters. There is a line between need-based, involved parenting and ‘helicopter parenting’. You alone can define this line from time to time.

Worse than helicopter parenting!

Did you know there are worse types of overindulging, overprotective parents? Here are two examples:

Black hawk parents are those who cross the line from a mere excess of zeal to clearly unethical behaviour, like writing their children’s poems or essays or even, drawing a picture for a competition.

In chess tournaments, some parents position themselves strategically so that they can clearly see the child’s moves and send alerts through SMSes! Of course, the child is made to hide the cell and keep it the silent mode. These perfectly qualify as Black hawk parents!

The term lawn mower parents describes parents who seek to mow down all obstacles, real or otherwise, that lie ahead of their children. Such an attitude is a sure recipe for disaster in the long term.

Authoritative Parenting

In contrast, authoritative parenting — also called ‘balanced parenting’ — is most recommended by experts. Authoritative parents believe in the growing maturity of their children, can understand their feelings and teach them how to regulate them. They do not attempt to solve their children’s problems but help them find appropriate means to solve those. Authoritative parenting allows children to explore more freely and encourages them to make their own decisions based upon their own reasoning. 

An authoritative parent does not punish the child, but teaches or reasons out with him through extensive dialogues to work on shortcomings. The disciplining measures of authoritative parents are consistent, never arbitrary. Age-appropriate independent thinking in children is relished as a sign of growth.

How does all this reflect on children? Experts say that children of authoritative parents have a higher self-esteem and a lower fear in facing the world. And of course, they retain a very healthy relationship with their parents throughout their lives.

Sriram Naganathan is an educationist and the founder of ignite minds.   

See also: Are You An Overcontrolling Parent? 7 Ways You May Be Harming Your Child

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