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How to avoid being a helicopter parent

Molly Cerreta Smith has enjoyed a career in the publishing industry for more than 10 years. As an editor of several regional magazines, she has had the opportunity throughout her career to meet many local celebrities, businesspeople, ent...

Slowing the propellers

Helicopter parenting stems from the best intentions — wanting to protect our children. However, this parenting style has been getting some backlash lately, with experts concluding that hovering can actually hinder your child's success in life.
Helicopter parenting

In an attempt to slow the propellers on helicopter parenting, we ask real moms to share how they help their kids become independent (and how they fight the urge to step in and save the day!). But first, let's hear what the experts have to say.

Experts weigh in

Joel B. Ingersoll, Ph.D. of the Center for Psychological Health & Fitness, LLC, says, "Some of the challenges helicopter parenting presents is that the child struggles to effectively manage conflict, develop an assertive voice and doesn't adequately develop a positive, confident sense of self."

He adds, "Collectively these may lead to difficulty negotiating through conflict adult relationships, developing assertiveness skills necessary in the workplace and lead to anxiety about decision making."

7 tips for teaching your kids independence >>

He suggests, "Rather than tell children what to do, or even worse, do it for them, it is much more beneficial to coach them by noting their strengths and discussing strategies to approach conflict especially focusing on allowing the child to determine the course of action."

Anastasia Gavalas, MS, SDA, family life teacher and author, says that helicopter parenting is not only bad for children but "it's exhausting on parents as well. Any time an individual does something for a child they can do for themselves, they disempower that child and hinder their ability to learn and grow confidence. It is challenging for parents to lay off because of the unpredictable world we live in."

Anastasia says, "But, parents can start early by giving children the space at home to take on responsibilities with their homework, relationships with others, and chores, for example. Once they see how children thrive and learn independently, they will have an easier time letting go of control and allow them to flourish."

According to Esther Boykin, LMFT, co-founder of Group Therapy Associates, "It can be frightening and sometimes even painful as a parent to watch your child experience sadness or disappointment but these difficult emotions are critical to their development. The fall from the monkey bars or the frustration of conflict between friends are the very life experiences that teach children how to be resilient and rely on their own abilities to succeed."

Help your children gain confidence >>

Esther advises, "For parents who are ready to pull back, one of the first steps is to be clear about your role as a parent. Parents are not meant to shield their kids from life's pitfalls but to offer support and comfort as kids slowly learn how to cope on their own. Look for developmentally appropriate opportunities to let your child step outside of your comfort zone, provide a few safety guidelines, and then bite your tongue and let them go. You'll feel nervous but focus on watching your child and before you know it that nervous energy will transform into pride as your child[ren] learns to stand on their own two feet."

Real moms weigh in

Kathleen Panek, a mom of six, has a simple solution to stop the propellers — love. She says, "I loved my children enough to allow them to not need me. I raised them with 'benign neglect.' Let them get into doo-doo and get themselves out of it while watching to keep them from getting in too deep. You have to love enough to go to the effort."

Build family bonds and raise confident children >>

Rachel Luman, mom of two young kids, says, "While we've always offered choices and respected my 3-year-old's opinions about what to wear or eat, I still couldn't get over my own fear of the playground. I was genuinely afraid he would get hurt. Not wanting my fears to impact his confidence, I enrolled him in a gymnastics class — one that did not involve the parents. The classes not only gave my son confidence in his own body, but also proved to me that he was strong and capable enough to move through his world without me holding his hand."

When Mary Fetzer's two children began elementary school, she made a very conscious decision not to become "volunteer of the year." She says, "One of the things that I [personally] loved about elementary school was knowing that it was 'my' space away from home. After school, my parents loved hearing about my day — it was healthy time apart and then a beautiful daily reconnection at the bus stop and around the supper table." She adds, "I always wanted my kids to enjoy school on their own like that and to feel a sense of ownership over their school career that Mom would be privy to but not in charge of."

She says, "I prefer to send my kids to school on the bus and greet them at the bus stop at the end of the day. We review homework assignments and that school-related stuff, and they can pick and choose which aspects of their social life they wished to share with me. This is their experience, not mine. I'm not going to live vicariously through them or try to make up for things I missed or never had a chance to do. I just want to be on the receiving end of their happiness."

Allie Pleiter, mom of two — a college senior and a high school senior — and author of Facing Every Mom's Fears, says, "My best advice is — rather than step in with a solution, ask the question "What do you think you ought to do about that?" My son and daughter often surprise me by knowing what to do when they stop and think instead of immediately calling/texting Mom. And wait 24 hours if at all possible. The majority of crises, choices and problems simmer down the next day or at least present good solutions given a bit of time."

Ann Morgan, mom and author of How to Raise a Millionaire, suggests creating a "you can do it!" reward chart for your child, while also creating a reward for yourself as well when you step back and allow your child to do something on his own. She says, "Put 10 things (pony beads, safety pins, paper clips, pennies) in your left pocket and each time you step back during the day, move one of those things over to the right pocket. At the end of the day, sit with your kid and review the day and all the things they did by themselves. Watch the sense of pride on your child's face — if that is not reward enough, take a bath and enjoy yourself!"

If all else fails, she says to wear a rubber band on your wrist. She says, "Each time you step in and don't let your kid do their own thing, you guessed it... snap that rubber band! Don't wimp out. Make it smart!" Ouch!

More parenting advice and real mom tips

Why I skipped preschool altogether
Help kids develop independence
Helping your child complete homework independently

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