When I worked in Washington, D.C., one of my roommates invited me to the White House to watch the President arrive in his official helicopter. As I stood there with the other spectators, the helicopter’s downdraft delivered a terrible blast of wind that wasn’t exactly pleasant.
Now imagine having that kind of forceful presence hovering over you all the time. That’s how our children feel when we get stuck in helicopter parenting mode. So, Mom, let’s land our mom’copters at least some of the time. Not sure if you’re flying one? Here are 5 ways to know if you’re a helicopter mom.
1. You hover.
A helicopter parent gets right on top of their child and stays put. She gives instructions, questions decisions, and swoops in at the first sign of distress. Helicopter moms are experts at hovering, and hovering is the very essence of helicopter parenting. Non-helicopter parents zip in and out of their child’s learning space and personal space; they don’t hover.
To break the hover habit, take a step back. Let your child navigate her own way in decision-making and figuring things out. Try to be a lighthouse parent — shine your light of influence so your child can fully assess the pros and cons of her choices. Let her have the feeling of accomplishment that comes from succeeding on her own.
Try to be a lighthouse parent — shine your light of influence so your child can fully assess the pros and cons of her choices.
2. Your child is stifled.
If you’ve gotten into helicopter mode, your child might feel like he has to do everything just right, or else you’ll step in and take over. Your child doesn’t get the chance to develop his own ideas, likes, or personality because you’re always there directing him and influencing what choices he makes.
So if you’re often saying some version of, “Try it this way. I have an idea for you to try.” Or, “I’m going to sign you up for __________.” Listen more and talk less instead. And when your child does come up with his own idea or approach, let him develop it. Let him make his choices and let him learn the lessons and develop the independence that failure can bring.
3. You’re uptight.
If we’re not careful, good parenting can turn into hyper parenting. Yes, we want to keep our children safe, but treating every day and every experience as if it were a minefield can put us on edge. And if we’re on edge, our children will be too. Eventually, our children can become fearful and tense.
Try to relax a little about your child’s life in general. If she doesn’t get into the magnet school in kindergarten it’s okay. If she falls off the slide — from a relatively low height — that’s okay too. Too much vigilance takes the joy out of parenting. And as much as we feel like our vigilance can protect our child, we can’t protect them from every danger.
4. You live your child’s life.
If you find yourself saying: “We have a science exam this week. How are we going to get ready for your game on Saturday? What are some steps we can take to work on your service hours?” you’re probably not just buckled into the cockpit of your helicopter, you’re in full flight.
The mantra of a non-helicopter mom is, let your child make her own way. You can guide your child, of course, but let her be the originator of her own life. Even when your child is small, watch her gravitate toward her own interests and then you can help her develop them. You can even present a variety of options for your child, but do so organically.
Your child will benefit from choosing his own path and learning from his own mistakes. And as long as those mistakes won’t have major consequences, let them happen. There will be times, however, when you do need to step in. For example, my very mature teenage nephew was in the college application process. His parents let him take the lead, but when they saw that his maturity wasn’t quite up to this type of challenge, and they understood the long term consequences if he didn’t complete his applications well and on time, they stepped in.
5. Your child is not maturing.
As our children get older, their world should expand with more freedom and more choices. If you still have the same level of involvement in your child’s life now as you did even a year ago, you are short-circuiting your child’s growth process. Children learn by being taught, but they also learn by doing things on their own, by bringing those lessons to life in the real world.
In what ways have you been a helicopter mom? What points in this article spoke to you?