Most of us have the best of intentions when it comes to our kids. We won’t hover, and we’ll let our children do things for themselves and learn from their mistakes. But sometimes we just can’t resist the urge to jump in for them–finishing their math homework, cleaning their rooms, or answering questions posed for them before they’ve even had a chance to reply! “While not a new phenomenon, helicopter parenting has intensified and can have crippling effects on children,” said Karen Friedland Brown, Director at the Peninsula Parents Place, where thousands of families come each year for help with parenting challenges.

“Helicopter parenting transcends race, class, religion, and the age of your children,” continues Karen. “It can start when children are still babies simply from our intense desire to protect our little ones or with our discomfort when they cry or have tantrums. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of coddling or hovering.”

As children grow, many involved parents feel anxious about their children’s prospects for success. “Our kids mean everything to us and we want them to realize their full potential, but in today’s increasingly complex and competitive world, parents often feel they need to create opportunities for their kids,” says Karen, who, with her colleagues, helps many mothers and fathers stressed out by over-parenting.

But when parents constantly take over their kids’ assigned chores for them, do their science projects, and intervene in minor scrapes with their peers, they are not helping at all. “Just the opposite,” says Karen. “We’re saying to our children that they’re incapable of fending for themselves or meeting their responsibilities. They end up feeling weak and powerless. Well into their twenties, they’re looking to mom and dad to cope with everyday problems we all must learn to manage.”

Parents Place workshops and consultations help parents support children to be strong, independent adults. Karen and her colleagues offer the following insights and suggestions to those interested in weaning themselves off helicopter parenting:

  • Before intervening on your child’s behalf, measure risks. It’s one thing to notify school authorities if your child is being bullied. It’s another to complete her book report for her. Allow her to learn what happens when she doesn’t follow through on her responsibilities.
  • Use mistakes as opportunities for growth. If your son forgets his lunchbox, deliver it to school the first time. But then tell him, “I was glad to bring you your lunch today, but what are you going to do to make sure that you don’t forget it in the future?” This will help him to learn how to problem-solve on his own.
  • Discuss with your children’s teachers appropriate guidelines for assisting with homework. Is it okay, for instance, to proofread your children’s assignments and use review times as lessons in spelling, grammar, and punctuation? Individual teachers will differ on this, so do consult them.
  • When you praise your child, recognize specific achievements and nurture your child’s efforts, i.e. “I see that you have included so many details in your drawing. I like that you took your time and you really focused on it.”
  • Avoid lavishing of general praise, i.e. “That’s the best drawing ever!” Or, “You are so smart and talented. I know that you’re going to ace that math test.” What happens if your child does not ace that math test?
  • Talk about your own challenges and failures, and model your problem-solving techniques with your children. Young people gain hope and strength when they hear that mom and dad must work hard to achieve results, too.
  • Continue to consider other measures of success and communicate them, verbally and nonverbally, to your children: loving relationships, strong friendships, formation of values, work you believe in, and capacity to empathize and help others in need.

From everyday issues to challenges requiring special assessment, Parents Place can help with all the challenges of raising children. We offer parenting workshops, parent coaching & consultation, child behavior & school support, clinical & special needs services, parent/child activity groups, and child & family therapy.

To talk to Parents Place professionals about helicopter parenting and other concerns, call 415-359-2443 or contact the Parents Place office nearest you.

See more advice on how to talk to your kids in this Wall Street Journal article: “The Praise a Child Should Never Hear.”

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