If the pandemic has turned you into a helicopter parent, one can hardly blame you. Unless you were the stay-at-home-parent to very young children before COVID hit, chances are your life used to be structured as such that every member of the family had some semblance of a life outside of the home. But now, we’ve got nothing but time to hover over our kids, monitoring their every move, from what and when they’re eating, to who they’re communicating with, to how they’re acting during their Zoom classes.
If you’re starting to feel like it’s time to back off a bit—but you’re not sure how to do it because they’re right there working all day long on the other side of the room—I’ve got some ideas to help you begin to ease up.
First: A helicopter-parenting refresher
Given that there are so many parenting style labels now, a little refresher might be helpful. Helicopter parenting is basically what it sounds like—it’s hovering (either literally or figuratively) over your children in an overprotective and controlling way. It’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from free-range parenting, which is all about raising independent kids who experience the natural consequences of their actions.
Helicopter parenting is answering questions for kids who are capable of answering for themselves. It’s mediating disagreements between them and their friends once they’re old enough to do so on their own. It’s demanding the coach put your kid in as the starting pitcher. It’s trying to pull strings to get them into a college or program they weren’t accepted into on their own merits.
Helicopter parenting may spring from good intentions. (You don’t want them to get hurt! You want them to be high-achievers! You think they deserve a better position on the team!) But it can backfire and cause children to have lower self-esteem and less self-confidence and to experience more instances of anxiety or depression.
Kate Bayless writes for Parents:
Helicopter parenting most often applies to parents who help high school or college-aged students with tasks they’re capable of doing alone (for instance, calling a professor about poor grades, arranging a class schedule, managing exercising habits). But really, helicopter parenting can apply at any age.
“In toddlerhood, a helicopter parent might constantly shadow the child, always playing with and directing his behavior, allowing him zero alone time,” [licensed psychologist] Dr. [Ann] Dunnewold says. In elementary school, helicopter parents may ensure a child gets a certain teacher or coach, select the child’s friends and activities, or providing disproportionate help for homework and school projects.
Watch out for actual hovering
Figurative hovering can often manifest itself as literal hovering. If you find yourself lingering at your child’s desk while they’re logging into Google classroom or submitting assignments—and they haven’t actually asked for your help—back it up. Go in with the assumption that the teacher has things under control, and remember that never before (and hopefully never again) will parents have such a close-up, real-time view of their child’s education.
If they need your help, by all means, help them. But if you’re signing into Zoom for them or filling out their attendance form when they’re either perfectly capable of doing so or need to make the mistake themselves in order to figure out how to correct it, take a seat. Or leave the room entirely, if the urge is too strong.
Get a hobby
I don’t mean this to sound flippant; you don’t need one more person telling you that the pandemic is the perfect opportunity to finally learn how to play that banjo collecting dust under your bed. But you probably used to have a lot more you time before everything went to hell. You went to the gym and to your book club, you went out for coffee with friends, happy hour with co-workers and “date nights” with your partner. Unless it’s taking place outside and socially distanced, most of that probably isn’t an option right now, but try to find substitutes for doing the things you love to do that make you feel like a person.
If you feel like most of your week is consumed with the details of your seventh-grader’s school work and social life (and not because they want advice, but because you’re inserting yourself), it’s time to take a bath, read a book, and tune everyone out for a while.
Organize your way out
If you’re prone to helicoptering, you may also be Type-A. Great—that means you’re also probably a fan of good old-fashioned list-making organization! While you’re off on your own, trying not to hover, pull out some paper and a pen and start making a list of things your kids should be doing for themselves—and a timeline or ideas for getting them there.
Are they old enough to be able to play for a little while in the backyard, but they’ve never been outside without you right by their side? Give yourself a timeline for easing them (you) into that. Start by running inside for a minute to grab a snack or refill a drink. Next, get started on dinner prep for 10 or 15 minutes while supervising them from the kitchen window. In time, you’ll be able to call across the house, “Go play outside!” like you’ve always dreamed.
Or maybe they’re old enough that they should be able to stay home alone entirely, but you’ve never so much as taken a walk around the block without them. Start by taking a couple of those walks, then run a quick errand to the corner store, then a couple of longer errands. Baby steps are fine as long as you’re moving in a straight line that-a-way.
Weigh risk vs. reward
Overprotectiveness can be a natural impulse for many parents, but Chris Drew, university teacher and founder of The Helpful Professor, tells Scary Mommy that it’s important to resist that urge so our kids can become independent risk-takers:
So, how do you self-correct? Recommended Drew, “Next time your child strikes out on their own, ask yourself: What is the worst-case scenario, and what are the potential benefits? If the worst case is a grazed knee or five minutes of tears, then that’s not a bad trade-off for the self-confidence and self-management skills that your child may get from the experience. If we don’t let our children take measured risks and be independent, we’re doing them a disservice.”
Give them permission to tell you to ease up
Most kids don’t want us to hover; at least not all the time, and especially not as they get older. If you know this is a you issue and not a them issue, admit that. Tell them it’s hard for you to let go, and although it’s only because you love them and want the best for them, you also realize they are individuals who need to learn on their own to become independent. It is not their job to break you of these habits, but once they’re a little older, they may appreciate being granted the permission to tell you, respectfully, to back it up a bit.
And if they do say that, listen to them. It means you’re raising kids who crave independence, and that is the ultimate goal.
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