Remember when you were a child?
You would head out on your bike (without a helmet, as they hadn’t been invented), knocked on your friends’ doors to see if they ‘were playing’ and then played out in the streets or fields until you were either cold, bored or hungry, which signalled that it was time to go home.
There were no mobile phones for your parents to check up on you.
They just trusted you were old enough and had all the skills you needed to stay safe and to come home when you needed your tea. Things are very different for children today.
Today’s children are seldom granted the same freedom as we were as children.
With the advent of rolling news, smartphones and social media parents are more aware then ever before of all the potential dangers lurking round every corner.
With a constant raft of parenting articles about how what we do and don’t do as parents can impact our children, there is also now an increased pressure for parents to think carefully about every aspect of how they bring up their children.
Parents are expected to provide a stream of stimulating activities for their children in a way that would have once seemed absurd.
This has led to the emergence of the helicopter parent.
When did ‘helicopter parents’ become a thing?
In 1990, child development researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay first came up with the term “helicopter parent” to describe a parent who hovers over a child and holds back their independence.
Over the years other terms have been coined to hone in on the ways parents overprotect their children. How they try to make sure that they smooth their paths to ensure that no danger stands in their way and nothing holds them back.
Lawnmower parents are one step ahead of helicopter parents.
Instead of hovering and being present to swoop in and avert any disaster, they do their utmost to smooth their child’s path through life and make sure they don’t ever face any obstacles.
Why helicopter parenting could be doing more harm than good
Helicopter parents have the safety of the child at their heart. They are loving and caring. However, by wrapping their children in cotton wool they could be doing more harm than good.
A study from the University of Minnesota revealed that overly controlling parents set their children up for failure.
Researchers monitored the behaviour of over 400 two year olds, looking at the way their parents interacted with them during a play session.
They caught up with the children years later and found that the most hands-on parents had seemingly raised the most maladjusted children.
Children of the most over-protective parents showed increased misbehaviour and poorer emotional well-being.
Why it’s important to stand back and let our kids figure it out for themselves
There will come a day when our children are faced with difficult choices or situations, where we’re not there to guide them. Stepping back allows our children to develop these vital coping skills.
Children need guidance, but they’ve got to be given the freedom to try things on their own and to occasionally fail at them. It’s the only way they learn to solve problems, overcome obstacles and build resilience.
Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the book “How to Raise an Adult” believes that overhelping children and teenagers can mean that they grow up unable to take care of themselves. They are unable to ask for help from others or be able to solve simple problems.
12 steps to not being a helicopter parent
Teach simple life skills early on
Teach your child simple life skills from an early age. For example when you cross a road show them how to do so safely.
Practice what they would do in an emergency
Talk to your child about what they would do if they got lost in a busy place. When you are out and about together ask them to tell you what they would do and who they would ask for help.
Talk to them about stranger danger
The concept of stranger danger is a bit tricky for children as many adults they meet will be unknown to them. Talk to them about who they should and shouldn’t talk to.
Allow little mistakes
Make sure you have basic safety rules in place that your child learns but also let them take some small risks when you are there to help pick up the pieces if things go wrong. Don’t eliminate every risk.
Help them find the solution themselves
When something goes wrong try not to swoop in with the solution. Instead talk to your child and brainstorm different things you can do together to fix the situation.
Show them that they can self soothe
If a child is worrying about something, talk to them about what they can do that might make it easier. For example, if they are worried about a sleepover, discuss what might make them feel more comfortable. This could be taking their favourite teddy, or perhaps you can arrange to phone them to say ‘Night night’.
Chores teach valuable lessons
Get them involved in helping out with chores around the house. From a young age your child can help you tidy up their toys, put the plates round the table and sweep the floor.
Teach them time management
Make sure they have an alarm clock by their bed so that they get used to waking up on time for school. Pop their school timetable on the fridge so they can check what day they need their PE kit, or need to take in their reading book.
Let them make their own decisions
Help them develop decision-making skills by offering them 2 simple choices from an early age. Help them weigh up the pros and cons of each choice before making up their minds.
Get them to navigate
On a familiar route (e.g. the walk to school) ask your child to lead the way and see if they can find the right route. If they struggle show them how to take note of familiar landmarks to memorise the route.
Teach them how to navigate public transport.
When you travel by bus or train show your child how to buy a ticket and how to learn which stop to get off at.
Allow bitesize independence.
Allow your child more freedom and independence in small steps. For example they could be in charge of telling you when it is safe to cross the road together.
Then they might be ready to cross a quiet road outside your house with you watching and supporting their decisions.
Later still they might be able to walk a short way on their own, with the knowledge that they will need to wait for the green man to cross the road and, when there is no crossing, to put in all the skills you have built up to decide when it is safe to cross.
By encouraging their independence and supporting it through gentle guidance, parents not only preparing their children for the moments that they are alone, but they are also helping them along to becoming well-adjusted adults.
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