Are You a Helicopter Parent?

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A helicopter parent hovers around a child like a helicopter — swooping in to help the child at a moment’s notice. This parental behavior, which often continues into young adulthood, stifling the child’s independence, is now on the upswing. Dr. Eric Scott, a psychologist at Riley at IU Health. He and his colleagues are seeing an increase in this behavior. “Helicopter parents are overly concerned with anything they think could cause distress in their child,” he says.

When Does It Occur?

Dr. Michael McKenna, a hospitalist at Riley at IU Health, says helicopter parenting can come and go with different stages in a child’s life. “It might be more common for times of transition for the child, like starting kindergarten or entering middle school,” says Dr. McKenna. Other triggers:

  • Parents reacting to their own personal anxiety. It’s not unusual for parents to project onto their kids. “A mother or father may imagine a catastrophe is about to take place unless they step in to stop it. It has more to do with worry on the part of the parent, than how the child is doing,” says Dr. Scott.
  • A parent may be overcompensating. “Some parents feel they went through too much pain and stress as a child, and they want to protect their own children from anything disappointing,” says Dr. McKenna. “But experience is the best teacher. If children never feel disappointment, they won’t learn positive ways to cope with it.”
  • A parent may be feeling pressure from society. “Our society is a ‘success culture.’ Many people feel the pressure to achieve, and want their children to achieve more too,” says Dr. McKenna.
  • The Consequences of Being a Helicopter Parent. “Helicopter parents ask a lot of questions. The child then tends to shut down,” explains Dr. Scott. It can also result in a child being more dependent, even as a young adult. “If children are not given opportunities to succeed and fail on their own, they will grow into young adults who are not self-reliant,” says Dr. McKenna. “They’ll be less capable of pushing through the minor roadblocks and obstacles that we all face in our day-to-day lives.”

Tips to Avoid Trouble

  • Ask your healthcare provider for advice. “Pediatricians and family practitioners know a lot about behavioral health. School guidance counselors are also a great resource, suggests Dr. McKenna.
  • Allow kids to fail. “Stay out of things unless they ask for advice. Then, help them determine what to do differently next time,” he says.
  • Promote independence at an early age. Fostering independence can start when the child is in kindergarten. “Setting or clearing the table at mealtime teaches responsibility and how to be part of a family team,” says Dr. McKenna. “Skills learned at the appropriate age can help with basic coping as the child grows.”
  • Set up regular check ins. “Some parents tell me they talk to their kids on the phone three times a day,” Dr. Scott says. “This is too much. Instead, have regular check-in times three times a week. This can help a child feel more confident about coping with life outside the home.”

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