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How not to be a helicopter parent

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Put away the propellers

Helicopter parents -- ones who are knee deep in every school and life issue, leaving kids little room for their own problem solving -- are largely a 21st Century phenomenon. But who wants to be that parent who is too involved? Following are some parenting tips to help you avoid the nasty little habits of helicopter parents.

Helicopter

Swoosh-swoosh-swoosh. What's that sound? It's a hovering parent swooping in like a helicopter to "save" their child from potential harm -- or is it a potential lesson? Helicopter parents are everywhere, shielding their kids from harm, hurt and more... or so they think.

Clinical psychologist David Sabine, Ph.D., knows firsthand about helicopter parenting. "I had a helicopter mom. Actually, she was a Huey that could lift a tank if she had to. I couldn't even sit on a motorcycle. I couldn't play football. And God help you if your kid messed with me," says Dr. Sabine. But when he went away to college and got a taste of freedom, he made several mistakes in short order.

Helicopter parenting stories like this are everywhere. Helicopter parenting has swept the nation. Wondering if you are part of the legion of helicopter parents?

Are you a helicopter parent?

If worrying about helicopter parenting is plaguing you, here are some parenting help. First, let's see if you might be a helicopter parent. Dr. Sabine shared this list of key characteristics:

  • Inability to tolerate the idea that your child might experience something painful or negative, or that might be a set-back for them.
  • A belief that a primary parental responsibility is to minimize pain in your child's life.
  • A belief that the child will grow up to be happy and fulfilled if they have as smooth a path through life as possible.

Rev Dr Angela Chester of New Life Pastoral Counseling says that helicopter parents also tend to "hover" over their kids in all aspects of their lives -- school, work and more.

>> How to stop hyper-parenting and just relax with your kids

How not to be a helicopter parent

Alright, so maybe you are a helicopter parent or maybe you are worried about being one in the future. Whatever the case, here are some ways to avoid that.

  • Let your kids face problems...and deal with them. Helicopter parents often intervene in their kids' lives to prevent them from experiencing painful and/or negative situations. Stop. "Just as we put math problems in front of our kids to solve, we need to allow them contact with life problems so they can become strong and capable," says Dr. Sabine.
  • Don't save them. When you feel the impulse to butt in and rectify a situation you see, just don't. "Falls will happen. Someone will lose the game. Your son may not get into Harvard. Life lessons must be learned by your child. In over protecting your child, you are doing them more harm," says Chester.
  • Let life lessons happen -- within reason. Look, you won't always be there to stop your child from doing something risky. So let them face risk head on. "Stand down in situations where the potential risk is acceptable -- they can handle more than you might think -- and then be ready to be protective when the potential harm exceeds the lesson that might be learned," says Sabine.
  • Talk them through things. Instead of taking the fix-it route, teach your kids how to address problems themselves, says therapist Julie Hanks, LCSW. "Coach your child through peer relationship problems or academic problems instead of swooping in and solving it for your child. Allow your child to experience a full range of emotions. Too often parents try to shield their child from painful emotions," says Hanks.
  • Encourage them to try. If people backed down whenever they ran into something that makes them anxious or fearful, then no one would have amazing adventures in life. Instead of allowing your kids to back off when they face something scary, encourage them to try it. "When your child comes to you with that anxious look of fear on their face about some new experience, don't furrow your brow and empathize. Smile and give them your best confident look and say, 'Give it a try if you want, it might be fun,'" says Dr Sabine.

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