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Helicopter Parenting - How to Stop Hovering so Your Child Soars

No doubt, it’s scary being a parent in today’s high-tech, competitive and often violent world. “We hear stories of abductions and kids getting harmed physically and sexually,” says psychotherapist Mari Jo Rapini. “We feel a need to protect our children.” Long gone are the carefree days like when Rapini grew up in a small town, prior to cell phones, the Internet and the idea that something catastrophic could happen if she was off her parents’ radar screen. There was no feeling that if she wasn’t constantly busy with piano or soccer, she would fall behind. “My parents saw their role as providing a secure home life, plenty of sleep, good food and help with homework,” says Rapini.

Although times have changed, many parents go too far to protect their children, and in the end, unintentionally harm their kids. Called “helicopter parents” or “overprotective parents”, they are always hovering around their kids.

According to research, parents most likely to hover are moms and dads of “millennials”, children of baby boomers, born between the early 1980s and 2000. “Parents talk to their children every day via texts, emails, Facebook and websites,” says Rapini. “Even when the child goes to college, mom and dad are still instrumental in guiding their courses, career and social life. The kids cannot escape and what’s more, many of them don’t want to.”

On the upside, studies show that when parents are involved in a child’s activities, they do better. However, there’s a fine line between involvement and over-involvement.

“Being there as a guide to support your child may be helpful, but if your guidance becomes you telling your child what to do and how to think and respond, your child begins feeling incompetent to handle the situations they are involved with,” says Rapini. “Soon, your child can’t make a decision without asking mom or dad.”

Are you a Helicopter Parent?

The No. 1 clue that you are a Helicopter Parent is that you help your child before they actually need it, says psychotherapist Christina Steinorth.

“It starts with good intentions,” she says. “Of course, no parent wants to see their child suffer an emotional hurt or fail at something. Yet as time goes on, these parents jump in before their child needs the help.”

A second clue that you helicopter parent is that your children are the entire focus of your life.

“They dominate every conversation and thought you have. When they’re not with you, you are wondering if they’re okay and if there’s something more you can do to help them,” says Steinorth, author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships (2013, Hunter House Inc. Publishers).

If you go to great lengths to ensure your children are “perfect”, you may be a helicopter parent. “You make sure they have perfect grades, perfect friends, perfect social interactions and perfect hobbies,” says Steinorth.

Still another sign is that you discourage your child’s independence. If they tell you about a hobby they would like to try, for example, you say something to the effect, “I know what’s best for you.”

“In my experience, parents tend to helicopter in all places of a child’s life - school, sports, other activities, friends and in later life, jobs and romantic relationships,” says Steinorth. “There really seems to be no end.”

Helicopter Parents hurt, not help

It’s ironic that helicopter parents believe they’re helping their children, but they’re actually hurting them in many ways.
For starters, children of these moms and dads aren’t able to develop a valuable life skill - resilience - that enables them to learn to bounce back after life’s disappointments. With helicopter parents to protect them, these children aren’t given the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.

“The truth is that you won’t be able to protect your child from everything for the rest of their lives,” says Steinorth.

By hanging on too tightly, says Rapini, your child may begin to develop these negative behaviors:

1. Less confidence in their own ability to take care of themselves in situations at school or play;
2. More fearful and withdraws from novel activities;
3. More anxieties and school phobias;
4. Less interested in things, unless their parents take an interest.

Solutions to stop hovering

If you’re a Helicopter Parent, don’t despair.

There are ways to stop hovering and to replace over-protective behaviors with healthier ways to help your child now and in their future:

1. Rather than solve a problem for your child, guide them to think through their problem to find their own solution. Ask your child questions such as, “What do you think would improve this situation?” Help your child learn to problem-solve, and to consider what they may be doing to contribute to a problem, says Steinorth. This teaches insight, accountability and responsibility.

2. Enjoy your life and other relationships. “It’s good for your child to see that you have your own life,” says Steinorth. “You’re role modeling independent living skills.”

3. Make mistakes a good thing for your child to experience. “Kids who grow up anticipating mistakes, take more risks, are less fearful and feel more confident about themselves,” says Rapini.

4. When your child is small, allow them freedom to explore, climb and be independent in a safe environment. Find parks and other places that provide security from traffic and other dangers, while still offering a fun atmosphere.

“When a child tries something new, it is clear that they look at the new adventure and look back at you,” says Rapini. “If they see a loving parent who embraces the new, while having confidence in them to master it, they will be empowered to soar.”

Kim is a writer and mother of two daughters, ages 11 and 15. She strives to not be a helicopter pilot. For more information, visit

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