What is a Helicopter Parent?

What is a helicopter parent and how to know if you are one.

It was probably my husband who, back when our oldest was little, first told me to “stop being a helicopter parent.” I can only imagine where he even learned the term “helicopter parent,” as I haven’t seen him read anything parenting-related in our entire relationship. But, years ago, he called me a helicopter parent to my then three-year-old because I wouldn’t let her out of my sight while we were hanging out a friend’s house. “She’s fine. Relax, will you?’ he asked.

Nine years later, I consider myself something between a helicopter mom and a laid-back mom. There are moments that I let my kids fall because, quite honestly, we’ve had this conversation before and they insist on learning the lesson the hard way. And there are times I have a hard time letting them go because I know the disappointment that potentially awaits them. I still strive to find my balance every day because parenting is a marathon, not a sprint.

What is a Helicopter Parent?

A helicopter parent, according to Healthline, is someone who is over-involved in their child’s life. A helicopter parent worries so much that a child will fall that they prevent the action that could cause the fall in the first place. For example, a helicopter parent might be so afraid a child will fall when playing on the playground that the parent doesn’t let the child play at all, or the parent follows and assists with every step so the child doesn’t get to experience the playground for themselves. As another example, a helicopter might not let their child play video games for fear of the them being contacted by a stranger, or being cyberbullied. Kidas allows concerned parents to let their children play while remaining informed of any potential dangers.

Helicopter parenting is the opposite of some who practice free-range parenting, which gives a child room to explore but also fall and deal with the consequences- and learning experiences- that come with trying new things.

What are some examples of helicopter parenting?

A helicopter parent essentially commandeers their child’s life so that only the good, easy things will be experienced. A helicopter parent likely:

  • Helps with schoolwork to the point that the child didn’t really complete the assignment, the parent did.
  • Coaches the child’s athletic team to ensure that the child gets ample playing time and is the star of the team.
  • Befriends their child’s teacher and consistently asks how they can help and what they can do to ensure that their child is successful in the classroom.

What is wrong with being a helicopter parent?

Being a helicopter parent isn’t always bad. Certainly there are times when your child will need assistance, need encouragement, need you. And that’s okay.

But it is one thing to help your child come up with the idea for a school essay and to proofread the essay before it is turned in. It is something else to come up with the idea, create an outline, tell your child what to write and then edit the article so that none of your child’s own thoughts are words are left. The latter is a form of helicopter parenting.

Kids are going to make mistakes. They are going to mess up. They might get a bad grade, or get cut from the team or not get invited to a birthday party. And it’s okay to feel sad with them or even upset with them. It’s okay to be upset when your child does poorly on an essay you knew they could have nailed. The helicopter parent mentioned above would have basically written the essay to ensure a good grade, but what would the child have learned? That their parent can get them good grades in school?

Being a helicopter parent is a bad thing when the child doesn’t learn how to pick themselves back up after a fall. It’s okay to fall, we all do it. Kids need to learn that it is part of life. You aren’t going to prevent every fall. A helicopter parent would do everything in their power to prevent the fall because they don’t want their baby to get hurt. But what a child needs is not someone who prevents the fall, but someone who helps them how to learn to cope with the consequences and learn from the experience.

How can I ease up on my helicopter parenting?

Picking up all of our kids’ messes might be the easiest course of action, both literally and figuratively. But part of being a parent means teaching our children the best ways to complete an action and effective ways of coping with a disappointment. Some of the best lessons we learn in life come from the leaps our parents let us take on our own.

My seven-year-old is amazing in the kitchen. She wants to learn to cook and bake all the things and she never wants help. Last week, I asked her to take the rotting bananas on the counter and make banana bread. I normally stand around the kitchen and help her, making sure she properly measures all the ingredients and adds them in the right order. This time, though, she insisted she could do it all herself, start to finish. And she did! But when she completed the bread, she simply stuck all of her dirty dishes in the sink and headed to the living room to watch TV. Normally, I would simply clean the dishes and load the dishwasher and go on with my day. But this time I told her that part of making a mess in the kitchen means cleaning it up. There was some crying. (Honestly, I’m underselling the some here.) But I told her she wouldn’t be allowed to cook in my kitchen any longer if she couldn’t clean up her messes.

It was a lesson for both of us: she learned that she needs to clean up her own messes and I learned that I need to let her. I know there will be times when I will be that helicopter mom who does all the heavy lifting for her, but, in this particular moment, I was proud of both of us.

Do you catch yourself being a helicopter parent?