Parenting and lifestyle blog by LifeByVal. Pinterest image for helicopter parenting article.

How to Figure Out if You’re a Helicopter Parent…and What to Do about It.

The first time I laid eyes on my firstborn, I knew exactly what type of mom I was. I was fiercely and ferociously protective of him. I would make sure he would never get so much as a bruise…so help me God. 

And that’s how it starts out. You fall in love with your kid at first sight. You vow to protect them from all and every single thing. Next thing you know, you’re a helicopter parent.

I am sure you’ve heard the terms before, and probably have some idea that it probably is not the best type of parenting. 

In this post, I’ll show you what I learned about helicopter parenting in my journey to improve my very flawed parenting style and ideals. And helicopter parenting is definitely high on the list of my greatest struggles.

I will define helicopter parenting, describe how people become a helicopter parenting, explain why being a helicopter parent is a terrible thing for your child, and finally give you pointers on how to avoid being a helicopter parent.

By the end of this chat, you’ll know if you really are a helicopter parent (which I definitely was), and understand what you need to do to improve your parenting style. Trust me, these tips worked wonders for me and my family.

So, let’s dive in.

What is a helicopter parent? 

The term helicopter parenting was first introduced in the 1990 book Parenting With Love and Logic authored by Foster Cline and Jim Fay, two researchers in the child development field. The current Wikipedia definition of a helicopter parent is someone “who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children”.

But, because as with most things that can be widely left to interpretation, I like my expanded definition a bit better.

My idea of a helicopter parent is a person that is constantly hovering over their child’s every move, which doesn’t allow for said child to learn any sign of independence.

Being invested in your child is fine. But when you find yourself wiping your fully-abled child’s butt at the age of 10, completing your teenager’s homework and projects, and arguing with a college professor about your adult child’s grades, you have probably become a helicopter parent.

This mismatch is the core of the dysfunctional parent-child relationship in helicopter parenting.

It can help to think about it in terms of not properly responding to a child’s needs. A child’s needs differ for every age group. Every newborn cry expresses their need for something—whether its milk, a fresh diaper, treatment for an illness, or the warmth of a hug. As they grow, children need to learn new things. 

They need to learn how to tie their own shoelaces and feed themselves with a fork. They need to learn how to do math and interact with others. They need to learn how to think logically and how to stand up for themselves when needed. At every step, children learn a new thing to help them become independent, happy, positive, and productive members of society.

And our job as a parent is to help meet our child’s needs so that we can improve the chances that they meet this goal.

The problem with a helicopter parent is their misguided attempt to meet the needs of their children—their parenting style does not grow to match the needs of their growing kids as they move from one stage of development to the next. You are left with parents using skills better suited for a newborn to raise a teenaged child.

This mismatch is the core of the dysfunctional parent-child relationship in helicopter parenting.

Why is helicopter parenting bad?

According to the Self-Determination Theory by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, these are the three basic needs for healthy development in humans:

  • Autonomy
  • Confidence in one’s abilities and accomplishments
  • Feeling loved and cared for

The reason that helicopter parenting is a terrible parenting style is because it prevents your child’s needs from being met.

Helicopter parenting crushes your child’s sense of autonomy.

People want to feel independent, having the ability to make their own choices and live their lives on their own terms. Helicopter parents take away a child’s autonomy because they make all their children’s decisions. 

Many times it is not in ill will—as in my case, I was doing so because I knew best and wanted to prevent my child from feeling any pain whatsoever. But as my eldest grew older, I realized that he struggled to do the simplest tasks for himself, expressing a lot of nervousness and fear of failure. I had not done enough to let him find his sense of autonomy. 

Helicopter parenting does not allow room for growth in your child.

And growth is essential to a child learning how to be confident in themselves and their abilities.

In my opinion, the sense of autonomy feeds into this confidence. Someone who practices making their own decisions start to have faith in their ability to make choices and successfully take action. A child that has had the opportunity to do both from a young age will have a head start at being a confident person.

The more we stifle our child’s autonomy by taking complete control of their lives, the more we stifle their ability to grow and eventually learn how to be confident in themselves.

Helicopter parenting may feel good at first, but will start to cause resentment and conflict later on.

A child with a helicopter parent will feel completely loved when they are little. This is a time when their need for love and attention, and a safe controlled environment is highest. But as I mentioned before, needs change as children grow.

As a child’s needs are at conflict with your parenting style, the more likely it is that the child will become resentful of the parent. Resentfulness usually goes hand-in-hand with other feelings, like anger and unhappiness. These are feelings that can systematically attack the walls of your relationship with your child, leading to your child not feeling truly loved…at least not the way they need to be.

Every adult child of an overprotective helicopter parent that I have ever met has continued to struggle with conflicting feelings towards their parents, and are more sure of their parent’s need for control than whether their parent actually loved them.

And that scares me as a mom, because one of my greatest wishes for my kids is for them to feel loved.

Helicopter parenting can negatively impact a child’s mental health and social skills.

Sure helicopter parenting means that children may experience less broken bones and bruises in childhood—it’s not like those parents outside free play and exploration of the world outside that may lead to the occasional bump or fall.

But the dangers of helicopter parenting are heavy, impacting children into adulthood. Children of helicopter parents suffer from:

  • Anxiety/depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-confidence
  • Poor social skills
  • Anger

Children of helicopter parents suffer from anxiety because they have no confidence in their abilities and have a higher than normal fear of the world around them. They have low self-esteem and self-confidence because they were not given the space to grow and blossom. They have poor social skills because they were not given an opportunity to interact with others on their own terms, to navigate relationships and conflicts on their own. And they are angry because they don’t want to be anxious/depressed, unconfident, socially awkward, and scared or worried all the time.

It is difficult for these children to become positive, happy, and productive members of society, which is what we should really want for our children.

It is clear that this parenting style is very flawed and one that we should avoid if we want to parent in the way that is best for our children.

Parenting and lifestyle blog LifeByVal. Image: Mom covering eyes of mom sitting on blanket.
Photo by Sunbae Legacy from Pexels

How to stop being a helicopter parent.

Now that you have gone through this post, you probably understand by now whether or not you are a helicopter parenting. You may even have been able to pinpoint some of the reasons why you became this type of parent in the first place.

Have no fear, if you are a helicopter mom, it’s not too late to find a more centered and effective form of parenting. Here are some things you can do to leave your helicopter parenting style behind.

Use journaling to work out your helicopter parenting shortcomings.

Journaling is a well-known tool to use for a variety of goals. It helps you with meal-planning, setting goals, outlining new articles, planning your entire life, and…helicopter parenting.

How to use a journal to improve your parenting style is by documenting your thoughts and feelings every time you feel the need to do something insanely overprotective. Describe the situation and why you wanted to resort to overaggressive parenting. What were you feeling at the time? Was your response primarily to address your own need to feel like an amazing parent, or to actually meet the need of your child at that moment? 

Identifying the reason for your reaction and acknowledging your feelings about uncomfortable situations can help you plan to make better parenting decisions.

I remember having to make a firm decision about whether I would allow my child to play in my current neighborhood unattended. We live in a relatively calm area, but there are older folks more so than younger families with kids. I wanted him to go out and play and explore, but was wary that he would spend too much time without at least one parent close-by, or even playing by himself in too isolated an area.

Journaling helped me really decide what the best decision for my family was. I was able to outline my concerns, clarify which concerns were unrealistic and driven more by my personal anxiety, and determine how valid the key concerns were in these modern times.

This activity helped me to come up with a plan that I was able to justify to myself, my son, and my family, without being derailed by the blinding fear of a nervous parent.

Allow your child to have some autonomy.

Allow your child more control over their day-to-day activities. Attachment parenting is okay in my book for little babies, but you also need to put them down on their wee bellies so they can build strength and understanding of their bodies, eventually learning to move on their own.

For little kids, provide them with options to choose from. For example, ask your child what type of milk they prefer for breakfast, or have them choose their own book for bedtime.

For bigger kids, more autonomy would be allowing to complete their own homework mostly by themselves. You can provide some guidance and directions when they ask you, but let them work through the difficulty of figuring things out. There is no better way of teaching a child how to think for themselves by having them actually just do it.

Other ideas involve allowing playtime in a safe location without hovering over the children, letting your kid figure out how to solve their own arguments with their friends at first, and allowing your teenager privacy in their room and with their approved technology (outside of using regular parenting features).

Providing a safe and healthy environment that allows your kids to explore life as appropriate for each stage of development is the goal.

Make a list of actions items to undo your helicopter parenting behaviors.

Make a list of things you recognize yourself doing as a helicopter parent. Everybody’s list will be a little different, but just think of the areas where you can probably give your kid’s a bit of space.

For me, I had to learn to give my kid some breathing room when he was playing with his friends. I stopped hovering over him while he was working and was extra careful not to chastise him over minor mistakes (like spilling a little milk while making his cereal).

I stopped telling him what to think and instead started teaching him how to think. I did this by asking more exploratory questions that he had to really sit down and really mull over, and then asking him to come up with his own conclusions or solutions. 

Come up with your own list, keeping in mind all the little ways you may be stifling your child’s growth daily. Then start undoing those behaviors bit by bit. 

Remind yourself of the dangers of helicopter parenting.

Whenever you back-pedalled towards my helicopter ways, I reminded myself why doing so was a terrible idea.

A lot of my parenting styles stemmed from what I learned about parenting styles I observed as a child, and also from my fears and anxieties. What helped to put things into perspectives was to compare risks of one parenting choice over another.

Often times, I found that the fears driving my behavior was actually doing more harm than good to my child.

I was afraid of him being hurt by other kids being mean to him, so I hovered around during playtimes. But then I realized that this behavior was setting him up for continuous failure in the long run by ruining his ability to socialize with others. And our ability to socialize well is such a key part of our ability to function as adults, and key to our happiness and sense of belonging.

When I compared risks, him being hurt was temporary. Him learning on his own how to navigate relationships was necessary. Me buffering him from everything was actually more of a danger than what I was currently afraid of.

Check-in with your kids about potential helicopter parenting behaviors.

Consistently checking in with your kids is something that every parent should do, including reformed helicopter parents.

Check in to see how your kids are doing. Pay attention to the list of actions you are trying to undo, and if your kid has noticed a difference, ask them if they are feeling better or worse based on those changes.

Ask your kids directly if they feel you are hovering. And if they think you are, discuss some options that would work better that you both can agree on.

Stay in tune with your child and work on meeting them exactly where they need you too.

There are many reasons why parents turn into helicopter parenting. For me, I had a super sheltered upbringing for the most part. Without healthy examples of how to navigate parent-child interactions and to properly address concerns regarding my child, I initially resorted to unhealthy parenting styles. And being a helicopter parent was one of them.

But once I was able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy parenting styles, I slowly worked towards improving my parenting style.

As a reformed helicopter parent, I also recommend these articles to help you on your journey:

What about you? Are you a helicopter parent…or a reformed one?

Comment below to share your story, or if you have advice/tips of your own on this topic.

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