There are many kinds of parents you can find at the local playground. You can find helicopter parenting, with adults who hover over their children constantly and the ones enjoying the slides and swings just as much as their kids. There are the distracted ones on their phones and the relaxed parents who don’t seem bothered by their child’s death-defying acts. There are also incredibly organized parents with epic snacks and a full first aid kit. At the playground, I’m that mom who hovers closely to my daughter, periodically wincing or exclaiming, “Watch out, be careful!” I’m a helicopter mom.
What is Helicopter Parenting?
A helicopter parent is overly involved or overprotective; they “hover” over their children, which is where the term “helicopter” comes into play. These kinds of parents tend to micromanage their kids’ lives, from schoolwork to socializing and all things in between. These overprotective behaviors come from excessive worry about their child to try and make things run more smoothly or to protect them from emotional and physical pain.1,2
In the extreme, helicopter parenting can mean too much interference in a child’s life, and it becomes problematic for both the parent and their child. Some helicopter parents become so invested in their child’s world that they neglect their interests, goals, and needs. They might even shield their child from important life lessons or stop them from learning skills to help them navigate the world.3
How Do You Know If You’re a Helicopter Parent?
We can all identify with helicopter parenting at times, like me at the playground. Playgrounds are my kryptonite, and press all my mommy “worry buttons,” so my tendency to hover increases. However, being a genuine helicopter parent isn’t just about general worry or a specific triggering situation. A helicopter parent is consistently over-involved to the detriment of their child’s well-being, and they generally can’t (or won’t) see anything wrong with their parenting style.3
Why Do People Become Helicopter Parents?
It’s natural for parents to worry or want the best for their children, and helicopter parenting can arise from wanting to look after them as well as you can. Certain situations can trigger or underpin what drives many helicopter parents, things like:3,4
Pressure to be a “good parent.”
This internal pressure can come from your perfectionist traits, self-esteem linked with how others perceive you, or even from wanting to parent differently than when you were raised, possibly from having uninvolved or uncaring parents.
Desire to micromanage things so your child has a good childhood.
Like above, this can come from wanting to give your child something you didn’t have. Perhaps your parents couldn’t (or didn’t want to) come to school concerts or watch you play sports on weekends. The desire to do things differently can result in helicopter parenting.
It can come from a place of love and wanting to protect them.
Loving your child so much that you never want to see them in pain can drive you to swoop in and stop them from being exposed to dangers or challenges.
Feelings of anxiety.
Helicopter parenting may come from the parent’s anxiety and inability to manage these fears fully.
Pros of Being a Helicopter Mom
Here are several pros to helicopter parenting:3
The children of helicopter moms tend to be very well supported in most areas of their lives.
1. Things are more organized.
Permission slips are signed on time, kids aren’t late to school, parties are RSVP’d to in time, etc.
2. Issues are picked up on and resolved.
Because they constantly monitor things, everything is handled. This might include health or developmental issues. The benefit is that prevention or early intervention, in many instances, will help overall outcomes for many conditions.
3. They don’t let things drop!
Being a child’s advocate has enormous benefits, and helicopter parents aren’t likely to let things slide. They will follow up or chase resolutions for things like bullying or health issues until they get the outcome they seek.
Cons of Being a Helicopter Mom
Here are several cons to being a helicopter mom:5,6,7
1. Failure teaches.
They need to fail to learn problem-solving skills and practice resilience. If they don’t know how to fail, they will struggle in the real world when they don’t win or can’t achieve something after the first try.
2. A lack of coping skills.
This occurs because the child hasn’t had to cope with challenges or regulate themselves. This is because they aren’t exposed to negative feelings to begin with.
3. Loss of confidence and self-esteem.
Kids want (and need) to be responsible for things. It gives them a sense of pride when they complete or do things themselves. They feel good when you provide them with responsibility because you essentially tell them, “I trust you.”
4. They lack life skills.
If kids don’t have an opportunity to practice life skills in childhood, they can become adults who don’t know how to look after themselves. They could become overly reliant or dependent on others to do things for them because they never learned how to manage things for themselves.
Kids who get everything they want or have someone smooth the pathway for them can easily get used to having their way, leading to a sense of entitlement.
Research has identified that children with parents who are overly controlling or involved have higher anxiety levels. This is thought to happen because they can’t regulate their emotions or behavior well.
Advice If You Are a Helicopter Parent
For most helicopter parents, hovering and interfering come from a place of love and wanting to protect their child. However, if you are a helicopter parent and you want to learn how to take a step back, here are some things to consider:8
Manage your anxiety.
Suppose your interference comes from a place of worry, and you can’t stop yourself from intervening. In that case, it might be an excellent opportunity to gain some support for yourself to help you manage and deal with excessive worries.
Hand over some responsibility.
Children thrive when they can achieve things for themselves or are given age-appropriate responsibilities, so think about things like chores, walking the dog, choosing their own clothes, helping plan a meal for the family, or activities of daily living like brushing their teeth or hair.
Let them fail.
This one is tough. No one wants to see their baby struggle (regardless of how old they are). But by intervening too soon, you accidentally tell your child you don’t think they can manage. It doesn’t mean stepping back and not providing support. Just don’t rush in and take the opportunity away from them to give it a go. You can sit in the background and tell them you are there if they need you.
There is no single “right” way to parent. We are all out here trying our best to raise our kids. And that means there is no single parenting style that is perfect. Like us, there are some good things and not-so-good things about each type. So, think about what you need, what your family needs, and what you value. This will help guide you toward a parenting style (or elements from many types) that will be the right fit.