Helicopter Parenting & the Perils of Pushiness

Helicopter ParentingWhen your sweet baby first enters the world, there’s no doubt that you hold that tiny bundle in your hands and are simply amazed at how innocent, tiny and utterly helpless that little heart and mind are. You immediately develop a fierce and protective love for your child and vow to keep him or her safe for the rest of your life. And who could blame you?

But what happens when necessary steps of independence come along and it suddenly becomes difficult to let go of that little hand?

While hovering over your children to prevent pain, mistakes or misfortune can seem like the most loving and precautionary route, there are moments in a child’s life when freedom becomes imperative for development. No matter if you’re a caring parent, devoted aunt or well-meaning teacher, “helicoptering” could be damaging in the long run.

Boundaries between parents and children can be a touchy subject, so if you’re suddenly feeling defensive or just plain disagree, that’s okay! We asked some early childhood education (ECE) experts to weigh in on the subject and tell us what they think, so try and embrace the debate. The line between pushiness and passivity may be blurry but rest assured – there is a healthy middle ground between properly insulating your kids and smothering them.

What is helicopter parenting?

“Helicopter parenting is a style of parenting that comes from the belief that kids need to be protected…the closer we are to our kids, the better,” explains Alina Mihai, life coach and former teacher and behavior therapist. She explains that the intent of these parents is to keep their children safe.

This parenting style often includes an excess of rules, over-involvement in a child’s life and intervening at any sign of failure by the child. Most helicopter parents have good intentions but their intrusive approach can have detrimental effects on their children, denying the opportunity for them to learn from their mistakes and figure out how to “fail well.”

How does helicopter parenting affect kids?

It may seem harmless when your children are young, but helicopter parenting can have long term repercussions on their future.

"All humans have the need to exercise their will and control their environment."

“All humans have the need to exercise their will and control their environment,” Mihai says. She explains that when children don’t have space to exercise their freedom, two dynamics result: power struggles or victim mentality.

Mihai says kids may argue or push back against their parents as a means to gain control. Some children will exhibit the opposite behavior—becoming submissive and accustomed to others doing things for them. The latter could manifest into issues during the child’s teenage and adult years, making it difficult for them to assert themselves or planting insecurities in their minds.

The after effects of this parenting style aren’t the only cause for concern. It affects children while they’re young as well, according to Becky Blake, early childhood educator, author and speaker. She explains that children can become complacent and lack intrinsic motivation to learn and try new things.

Can other adults in a child’s life become “helicopters”?

The answer is simple … YES! Parents aren’t the only culprits guilty of these actions.

Young children interact with all sorts of adults on a regular basis: parents, family friends, teachers, grandparents and other relatives. Any of these individuals have the means to hinder a child’s desires, determination or ability to make decisions, categorizing them as a “helicopter.”

“The only way to create true self-esteem is to fall and then brush yourself off and start all over again,” says author and speaker Nick Ambrosino.

He believes that it’s not the parent or teacher’s duty to make the student feel comfortable, but rather to provide them with the necessary strategies to successfully navigate the inevitable discomfort that comes in the learning process.

Why is it important for children to learn from their mistakes?

All people must learn how to fail. Some believe there is no such thing as failure in life: only feedback. When kids make mistakes, their opportunity for learning and growth is enormous. Failure can be a pivotal point of maturation and development.

"The gym of life starts in childhood."

“The gym of life starts in childhood. That is where a healthy sense of self-esteem can be shaped by means of challenge and support,” Mihai says. She adds that when the children of helicopter parents tend to lack the emotional fitness needed to face adversity once they enter the “real world.” 

How does this apply to early education?

As mentioned above, parents aren’t the only ones who can become restricting and hovering helicopters in a child’s life. Teachers are present in most kids’ lives five days every week, meaning their influence is massive.

Early childhood education is critical for learning and development, according to Blake. She believes the brain of a young child has less filters and more imagination.

“Children do, fail, become frustrated and try again until they get the result they set out for or are happy with a new result,” Blake explains. It’s important that ECE teachers allow this trial-and-error process to happen.

How can you teach kids without hovering?

There are plenty of ways to nurture and protect children from pain without impeding on a child’s ability to learn and grow. You won’t always be around to supervise them, so it’s important to allow them the freedom to grow and develop on their own.

If tactical learning and creative developmental plans interest you, take a look at these strategies to consider for your early childhood education classroom.

Learn how an ECE degree can help provide you with the knowledge and experience you need to teach tots!

Lauren Elrick

Lauren is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys helping current and potential students choose the path that helps them achieve their educational goals.

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