When our kids hurt, we feel it, too. Parents go out of their way to protect young ones from all forms of mental, physical, and emotional harm. But is this always the best choice? Emotional regulation is an essential life skill. Being too protective gives children fewer opportunities to practice emotional self-regulation. Despite good intentions, overprotective or “helicopter” parents may be robbing their children of the chance to develop resilience and healthy coping skills. How can you tell if your urge to keep your children safe may be doing more harm than good? What are the psychological and social benefits of giving your young ones more unsupervised freedom?
What Is a Helicopter Parent?
The phrase “helicopter parent” was coined by Dr. Haim G. Ginott in his 1988 publication “Between Parent and Teenager”. These parents were observed to hover over their children like a helicopter floating just above the ground. Helicopter parents spend a lot of time and effort planning, directing, and controlling their children’s activities. Some defining behaviors include:
- Being overattentive to their child’s desires. This indulgence takes many forms. It can be the mom who angrily yells at the referee when her daughter gets called on a justified foul or the dad who believes his son’s failing grades are due to bad or personally malicious instructors.
- Control of the child’s physical space. Helicopter parents focus on reducing potential sources of harm from their child’s environment. This could mean limiting the types of food they eat, restricting play and leisure activities, or handpicking the child’s friends and associates.
- Obsession with the child’s life. These parents often equate their own success with their child’s accomplishments. Parents may pressure young ones to excel in academics, sports, or other endeavors. Some will go to lengths that are unhealthy for both parent and child.
The helicopter parent impulse can be driven by fear of consequences, anxiety, adult peer pressure, and overcompensation for their own unhappy childhood.
Are You a Helicopter Parent?
It’s a parent’s job to protect their child. How can you know when you’ve gone too far? Ask yourself these questions.
- Do you insist on handling personal conflicts your child has with schoolmates, teachers, and peers?
- Have you ever worked on a school project for your child after they’ve gone to bed to ensure they get a passing grade?
- Do you limit your child’s activities for safety reasons even when they’re age-appropriate and within the child’s ability?
- Have you denied permission for your child to go on school trips or participate in other leisure activities because something bad might happen?
If you answer yes to these questions, it’s worthwhile to re-examine your parenting style. Children of helicopter parents experience problems in adulthood as a side effect, including emotional issues, a sense of entitlement that leads to chronic disappointment, and long-term health problems.
Giving your child more freedom helps them learn vital self-control techniques and develop executive functioning. Re-evaluate your parenting philosophies to ensure your child grows into the strongest possible version of themselves.
Before having children, future parents often imagine their offspring will be more cooperative and relatable than those they see around them. Children are, after all, made by combining pieces of each parents’ personality, physical traits, and mental aptitudes. How could you not get along with a miniature version of yourself?
The truth is that, while children may share certain traits and habits with their parents, they are their own people. Their decisions, motivations, and preferences can vary vastly from your own. This can contribute to friction in the parent-child relationship. This state of irritated disagreement occurs at all ages and for a variety of reasons. What causes friction between parents and children? How can parents correct the underlying causes of this dysfunction?
Root Causes of Friction
When friction strikes, it’s essential to find the root cause of the disagreement. This will enable you to formulate an effective plan to neutralize the bad feelings. These are common causes of friction in the parent-child relationship.
- When your child isn’t getting the emotional validation and positive attention they crave, they may choose to act out. This cry for attention can come in the form of tantrums, uncooperative behavior, or even violent acts like hitting or punching.
- Parents who are pulled in too many directions can have a hard time keeping up with all their demands. Friction happens when your need for rest or self-care is challenged by the needs of others in your care.
- High parental expectations can set children up for a lifetime of success. Unrealistic or harsh expectations, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. According to a recent study, when parents set expectations, children are more prone to failure when confronted with unyielding standards. This can add to the buildup of friction between parents and children.
Once you decipher the reason behind the problems, what can you do to fix them?
Use these techniques to confront the issues that are causing friction in your home and bring calm to your parent-child relationship.
- Check in with yourself. Have you been taking care of yourself? Reduce your own stress levels by engaging in activities you love, going to the gym, and eating a healthy diet. Take care of your own needs so you have the energy to help your child sort through their issues.
- Listen to your child. Try to reserve judgment and maintain a calm demeanor when they say things you don’t agree with. Look at the situation from their perspective to gain an empathetic understanding of their frustration.
- Make communication a family value. Regular family dinners and special one-on-one time with each child give parents opportunities to talk about issues before they become big problems. Periodic family meetings cut down on discord between family members by giving them a formal time and place to air grievances.
Family friction can threaten the happiness in your home. But with a little patience, empathy, and loving kindness towards yourself and your children, you can restore harmonious relationships.
How to Cultivate Compassion and Gratitude in Your Children
Social isolation is a serious trend affecting today’s world. While high-speed internet connections give us the illusion of having more friends and acquaintances, statistical facts say otherwise. According to a recent poll, 72% of Americans experienced persistent feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness is a precursor to clinical depression and can have adverse effects on physical and mental health. Young people who are still developing social skills are at higher risk of falling victim to this condition. Compassion and gratitude are important psychological tools in the effort against social isolation. What are compassion and gratitude? How do they help in the formation of healthy and mutually beneficial relationships? What steps can parents take to cultivate these traits in their children?
Defining Compassion and Gratitude
Compassion is the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of another person. Compassion is similar to empathy. However, empathy is simply the emotional impulse. When someone feels compassion, they also feel the need to do whatever they can to alleviate the pain they see. Multiple scientific studies performed with infants and animals lead researchers to believe that compassion is an essential evolutionary trait. Without that drive, there would be little reason for group members to help each other overcome obstacles.
Gratitude is the experience of being thankful for something good. Psychologists define gratitude in two ways. In the most common usage, gratitude is an emotion. It’s something that’s felt when a gift is received, or trouble is avoided. However, gratitude is also an attitude. Grateful people are generally more pleasant and positive, which leads to wider social possibilities. The appropriate use of gratitude strengthens bonds, enhances self-esteem, and encourages contentment.
Cultivating Compassion and Gratitude
Sharpen your family’s compassion and gratitude skills by instituting a few changes in your daily life.
Make an effort to be grateful. During dinner, have each family member say something about their day for which they were grateful. Encourage young ones to keep a gratitude journal and write in it every day.
The best way to teach compassion is by showing it to your child. When they’re hurt, angry, or troubled, use active listening to help them sort through the problem. Once the issue is identified, work with them to develop a solution.
Model the behavior you would like to see. Show gratitude for the actions of others and participate in compassionate acts when your child is around. Talk with your child about what you are doing and why.
Volunteer as a family. Volunteering is a family-friendly activity that encourages the formation of community connections while allowing members to practice empathy, gratitude, and compassion.
Families that make gratitude and compassion part of their daily routines enjoy calmer homes, deeper relationships, and a richer social life. Boost your family’s immunity to social isolation with these simple tips.
Deana Cupo LCSW