Helicopter Parenting: How to Land Your Aircraft for Good

It's so hard to stay out of it, but I'm trying
It’s so hard to stay out of it, but I’m trying

“Helicopter parenting.  Don’t be a helicopter parent.”  Through the years, I’ve heard the phrase and the disdain that comes with it as other parents judge your completely “everything-must-be-perfect-for-my-baby” style of parenting.  But I didn’t quite know what it really entailed until recently.

I was at a playdate with three good friends of mine, each of us with three children.  While the other moms hung out in the kitchen with their infants, chatting and snacking on the delicious veggie and dip spread, I sat downstairs in the playroom in the finished basement.  I went down because my toddler was down there with the “big kids” (he had just turned 3, and the next youngest child down there was 5), so I needed to make sure whatever he got into was safe, that there weren’t chokey toys he was getting curious about, that he wasn’t climbing on things, etc.  But since I was down there anyway, I couldn’t help but to observe my 8yo tell another kid to “shut up” [“We don’t say ‘shut up,'” I said.  “Please tell him you’re sorry.”] and hear a friend’s son say “I’m going to punch you in the face” [at which point I gave the look but didn’t say anything.]  Next came the movie the kids put on TV, complete with an occasional swear word that the boys repeated, giggling.  I was disciplining during a playdate, trying to predict what would happen next and wondering how I could control it.  I was getting stressed out down there while my friends were upstairs having a playdate of their own.

That’s when I realized I had become a dreaded helicopter parent.  Maybe not in its traditional sense — i.e. I don’t meddle in school stuff much — but I was there, watching my kids’ every move, and trying to make sure it was all ok and everyone was happy and kind and all that good stuff that kids often are deep down but not constantly displaying on the surface.  I was zooming around and descending promptly any time I though my brilliant intervention could improve the flow of the playdate.  I was annoying myself and annoying the kids.

I do believe that “times have changed,” and parents today probably should be a bit more watchful than when we were kids and our parents would send us out to play all day and expect us to show up back home at sundown.  But there I was, at a friend’s house, where everyone and everything was ok . . . and I was meddling.

I decided it had to stop.  If you find yourself in the same situation, here are

5 strategies to help you stop helicopter parenting and land your aircraft for good.

Think back.

Try to remember a time in your own childhood when you had to deal with another kid not being nice to you, for example, saying “Shut up.”  What did you do?  How did you handle it?  Did it even faze you at all, or did you just carry on, playing with the other kids instead?  If you can remember how you got out of an uncomfortable kid interaction, you may realize the power of your own children to get out of it on their own as well.    I once threw a sneaker at my sister’s head.  I was mad, but she got hurt.  And while someone eventually told on me, seeing my sister cry was enough to make me realize I had done something wrong and to make sure I never did it again.  As the mother of three boys, there are a lot of kid battles in my house.  I’ve tried to take a step back instead of constantly running to the scene to try to save the day.  When I hear the boys arguing, I call from the other room, “Work it out, guys.”  Then I hold my breath and listen.  It’s not always pretty, and I often still end up helping resolve (or send them to their rooms to cool down).  I’m trying.  Hopefully soon they’ll get used to me telling them to work it out on their own, and hopefully that means I can start to breathe again after saying it.

Think forward.

OK, one kid just threw a rock at another.  What’s going to happen next?  Will he apologize?  Will he throw another?  Will the “victim” strike back?  Will other kids get involved?  Will someone cry?  Will someone tattle?  If you can read the situation (easiest if you know the kids involved) to get a sense for which way you think it will go, you can keep your actions in check and respond appropriately.  [Note:  I’m pretty sure I’d have trouble staying out of the situation if someone really threw a rock, but I thought it would be a good example.]  If it’s going to escalate, step in, but be fair to all and not just there to protect your own child.  He may have been the one who threw the rock in the first place.

Scan for danger.

Is anyone in real danger?  Can someone be physically hurt?  Sticks and stones can break bones, and while words can also cause emotional damage, they may require less of an immediate helicopter response.  If there is any risk of danger, get those propellers spinning fast and swoop down to help fix the situation.  There may be grey areas — like a projectile sneaker flung — somewhat gently — at a sibling’s head, but you’ll know when real danger is there.  Trust your instinct.

Is this a rerun episode?

Have you seen this situation before?  The exact same situation, the exact same kids?  Is there a toxic combination of personalities that repeatedly derails into an unhappy playdate?  If yes, you may not need an immediate intervention, but rather a chat with your children outside of the situation.  Talk to them later about how they feel in those situations, whether they have fun with those kids, whether they were comfortable with how everyone treated each other.  If they’re not, you can proactively change your plans for the future to avoid those tough playdates.

Plan your own playdate.

Remember your friends upstairs having fun?  You should be there with them.  Build a relationship with your kids so they know they can come get you if something does go wrong.  Trust the system, and trust your kids, so they can have fun being kids and you can have fun being the parent.  Of course, the ability to do this varies based on the kids’ ages and personalities, but you can try it when you think it’s right, and hopefully everyone will be happier in the end.

I’m hereby trying to stop being a helicopter parent so I can land my aircraft for good.

But is hovercraft parenting allowed, in case grounding the helicopter is too hard?  😉


#mobtruths #parenting #raisingboys #helicopterparents



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  1. I love that my girls are getting old enough that I can let them play on their own for stretches of a time, with or without other kids, and step away. I’m still not having much in the way of uninterrupted conversations or chances to catch up with friends, but that progress is reassuring!!
    Catherine @ Ten Thousand Hour Mama recently posted…Taking action with others: Doing good every day in FebruaryMy Profile

  2. These are really great tips. Sometimes it can be hard to just watch our children go out in to the world on their own.. it’s scary for moms.

  3. Love this. There is a difference between making sure that children–yours and others, for that matter!–are safe and not interfering in a learning process. I have a feeling that parents have to repeat to themselves again and again that something your child does once will not necessarily stick, especially if things are systematic at home (I’m thinking of swearing). I also think that it is more important to let children have their own experience and then, every day, discuss them over the dinner table!
    Sahar recently posted…Coherence: Answering The Needs of Baby, Daddy, And Mommy At The Same TimeMy Profile

  4. I am definitely glad my kids are old enough now to be left but definitely it is hard as I have heard quite a few things from my 4 year old that she has heard from others. It is so natural to be protective of our kids. I got really cross someone took my son’s Pokemon cards out at school and threw them on the floor. I hate that someone could be mean to him. Definitely think it is good to teaech them to come to you as well as they do know right and wrong.

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