Do Not Smother Your Kids…It Will Do Nothing Good For Them
Helicopter parents are the parents who hover over their children. These parents do almost everything for their kids. They should wear badges that say I DO EVERYTHING FOR MY KIDS because they are so proud of their parenting skills.
Perhaps you have sat with this kind of parent at family gatherings. Maybe you have been advised by this parent to get on the ball and research college options for your eldest child. Maybe a helicopter parent has told you to go over a teacher’s head to an administrator because “your son’s needs aren’t being met”. Maybe you are the administrator who has to deal with the constant complaining of these overbearing parents.
We do not want to be helicopter parents, but how do we avoid smothering our children? When is a little benign neglect a good thing?
Any parent of an infant knows that baby cries when he or she needs something. Then it is a matter of diagnosis. Does baby need a fresh diaper, or is he hungry? Unless the baby has colic, getting him to stop crying usually just requires a little effort.
Just as with infants, the first way to get a child to be independent is to listen to them. Fortunately for us, children start to talk when they are about a year old. As soon as they can talk, they can be taught to ask for what they need or want. “More milk please” is the first sentence this writer ever put together.
Two and three year old tantrums stem from a child not being able to distinguish wants and needs. If parents seize upon these valuable learning years and teach them the difference, much independence can be ingrained into them at an early age.
So you are in Wal-Mart and Katie wants a dolly. How many dollies does Katie already have? Ask her. Does she play with the dollies she already has? Ask her. Does she take care of the dollies she already has? Ask her.
Just because you can afford another dolly for Katie does not mean you should buy it for her. Children need to learn contentment with what they already have. Once your children can distinguish between want and need, the next step in parenting is to teach delaying of gratification.
Some parents interpret the idea of delayed gratification as the giving of rewards for good behavior. Wrong. Children who learn that rewards go with good behavior do not learn that good behavior is its own reward. Once again this is the difference between need and want.
Children need food, shelter, and the structure and security love provides. They do not need toys. Any child deprived of toys will find something with which to play be it pots and pans or sticks and dirt.
Neither do children need entertainment. They are fully capable of entertaining themselves although sometimes a little encouragement or instruction from an adult is necessary. In fact, every minute given to teaching children to do for themselves will put our children one step closer to independence.
Of course, the biggest issue with helicopter parents is that they cannot relinquish control of their children. They see their children as extensions of their own lives rather than separate little people (or big teenagers) with minds and responsibilities of their own.
Let’s examine a scenario:
Your middle school son needs an 85 per cent in Spanish 1 in order to go on to Spanish 2. He has an 80 per cent. What action do you as a parent take in this situation?
Negligent parent: You think that there is nothing wrong with an eighty per cent. Jeepers, it’s only Spanish. You don’t do anything.
Helicopter parent: Oh no, if your son does not go on to Spanish 2 next year, he is going to be behind everyone else. He definitely will not get into the best college available and then your friends will think you are a bad parent. You email or call his Spanish teacher and ask if there are any assignments your son can do to bring up his grade. You are told that there are no extra assignments. The teacher says your son just needs to study more for tests and quizzes. After talking to the teacher, you ask your son what kind of grades he is getting on his tests and quizzes. Rather than answer your question your son complains how the teacher’s quizzes and tests are really unfair and how the rest of the class is doing badly too. So you call the principal and complain about how the Spanish teacher is not teaching your son.
Parent of an independent child: You think that your son is fully capable of pulling up his Spanish grade. You have a conversation with your son. What’s the problem with Spanish, you ask. Because he is an independent child and used to having conversations with his parents, he tells you the truth. I do lousy on the tests and quizzes, he says. You explain to him that he will have to retake Spanish 1 if he does not improve his grade to at least an eighty five per cent. He says, I really don’t want to have to take Spanish 1 again. He states that he will study more. Then a couple of days later he reports to you that he has gotten a 95 per cent on the most recent quiz. Because you are not negligent, you will periodically ask him how Spanish is going. But at the end of the year, if his grade is not an 85 per cent or better, your son will take the consequences by repeating Spanish 1.
The child of a helicopter parent and the independent child differ in one major way. The independent child takes responsibility for the Spanish grade; the child of the helicopter parent takes none. If you do not see the problem when your child blames others for what is wrong in his or her life, you are a helicopter parent.
Raising children is hard. It is human to make mistakes, but don’t make the mistake of fixing everything for your children. When they fall down, let them pick themselves up. Show them how you handle obstacles. All of your experiences, good and bad, are opportunities for your children to learn from you. All of your children’s experiences are just that: their own experiences. Let them do life themselves.