If you want kids to soar, ground helicopter parenting


It’s time to let your kid fail, make his mistakes and deal with the consequences. Only then will he learn how to bounce back.

To a modern parent, that advice sounds counterintuitive. A parent’s basic instinct is to shield and protect their little one, making sure all is right with the world. But sometimes hovering smothers the child.

Helicopter parents, I’m talking to you.

Your heart is in the right place. Your intentions are sound. You want to pave a safe, secure way for your child to grow and thrive.

There are unintentional consequences of all that suffocating love, however. Experts are largely in agreement on this: Kids who are always rescued and never allowed to make a decision grow up feeling incapable of doing anything on their own.

“Parents want to do a great job, but sometimes that job means letting that kid trip and fall, and pick themselves up, so they know they can do that,” said Maggie Macaulay, a parenting coach and president of Whole Hearted Parenting in Miramar. “It doesn’t mean doing everything for your child.”

What is helicopter parenting?

It is essentially ‘overparenting,’ said Samantha Carella, a Miami child and adolescent psychologist. “It’s taking the basic skills of parenting to an excessive level,” making choices for kids, getting involved in their friendships and intervening at school.

Helicopter parents are afraid to let their children fail. “It’s parents who intervene, rather than letting their children resolve difficulties,” Macaulay said. “They feel that failure is harmful for their kids.”

Hovering parents don’t allow children to make mistakes they can learn from, said Carella, part-owner of Pediatric Psychology Associates in South Florida. “As a result, the children don’t get to experience real successes as well as failure, because a lot of times their successes are due to the accommodations provided by the parent.”

How is this a disadvantage for the child?

Kids don’t ever learn how capable they are because the minute there’s a flaw on that science project or something gets spilled, mom or dad swoops in and takes care of it, Macaulay said.

“Anytime we do things for children, or anyone, that they can do for themselves, we rob them of the joy of accomplishment, and the enrichment of learning how to do things differently if they ‘fail,’” she said.

In essence, they’re creating less resilience and resourcefulness in their children, said Karen Deerwester, a parenting coach, author and director of Family Time, Inc. in Boca Raton. “It gives children the idea that they won’t be successful and competent, and that they need their parents as full-blown partners or rescuers.”

Carella said this overhelping becomes a crutch to the child. “The message that we give is — ‘I don’t think you can do this without me,’” she said. Letting your child make mistakes teaches frustration tolerance, that life is not always rosy and that you can move forward, even when you make a mistake.

Why is this becoming more common?

Parents feel like they’re in a fish bowl. “There is so much shared on social media that no matter what you choose, there is another perspective that will make you feel like you haven’t done enough,” Deerwester said.

Parents may not start out this way, but they feel pressure from everybody else who is doing it, Carella said. “Now their kids are going up against kids who have been over-prepared and over-tutored and set up for success. So they think: ‘Does my child even have a chance?’”

The philosophy 20 to 30 years ago was that our children need to learn on their own and we’re here to guide them and provide support, she said.

“But now, the playing field is not level. You have children who are overparented,” Carella said. “It looks from the outside like they’re very prepared and polished, but on the inside many times, they lack the self-confidence and the skills to manage things on their own, whether it’s socially, academically or daily living.”

How do parents find the right balance?

Helicoptering is about trust and confidence, Deerwester said. Her advice:

▪ Parents need to trust themselves. If they have chosen a good school or prepared their child for a new school year or new teachers, they can take a deep breath and say, “I’ve set the foundation. I’ve done what I need to do, and now I can let it go.”

▪  Parents should trust the school. Educators are experienced. They know how to handle transitions and challenges of every new school year.

▪  Parents have to trust their children’s abilities. Trust your child to be able to meet age-appropriate challenges, so they become more confident learners and better thinkers.

Tips for helicopter parents:

▪ If a child is stuck on a problem, have them brainstorm solutions. “Get the child to see what his options are. Parent feedback can be helpful, but you shouldn’t dictate what they should or shouldn’t do. This sets the child up for failure,” said Samantha Carella, a child and adolescent psychologist with Pediatric Psychology Associates in South Florida.

▪ Be OK with your child failing. “You have to start by feeling comfortable with your child experiencing things that are not always successful,” Carella said. “Parents need to let go and not take responsibility for everything in their child’s life.”

▪ Don’t try to manage your child’s happiness. “Parents overreact when their child is unhappy, and try to make them feel better. This can backfire because you are sending the message ‘you need me to feel better,’” Carella said. “Be there to listen and let them vent.”

▪ Empathize, but don’t solve. Sometimes just empathizing helps. Try “Wow, that must have been hard for you.” “I know you tried really hard.” “I can only imagine how you feel.”

▪ Help them reframe. Try “Do you think there is something differently you can do next time?” “What’s another option for next time that might work better?” Carella said they may not know, and parents can offer suggestions if the child wants them, but don’t say, “Next time, make sure you do a, b and c.”

▪ Stop hovering. “Parents react quickly, but children need time to process,” Carella said. “When we jump in to help, rather than letting them go through it themselves, we take away their opportunity to learn. Kids can’t learn if their parents are always doing for them.”

— Julie Landry Laviolette