Are you a helicopter parent?

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While your intentions are good, a hovering parenting style may do more harm than good – not only to your child, but you as a parent. We spoke with Julia Noble, a psychiatric nurse therapist from Cape Town, about helicopter parenting.  

Why parents hover
The psychology behind helicopter parenting is complex. Parents bring to the family their own individual histories, often filled with memories of feeling inadequately parented themselves. It is also difficult to ignore the vulnerability of children in South Africa and the anxiety and fear this raises in parents. This protectiveness may overflow into areas which are in fact safe, but where there is a perceived threat or fear.

Parents may also feel that a lack of “hovering” may be interpreted as “not caring”. This usually stems from societal pressures and the school or neighbourhood expectations of parental involvement.

When the fears and anxieties of the parents are overwhelming (for the child especially), this can be a cry for help and an indication that parental support is needed. Counselling for parents is very helpful in freeing up and making sense of issues. It can help parents separate the past from current issues, which may ease anxiety.

When it all goes downhill...

Being the constant voice for your child steals the opportunity from him to experience his autonomy. It intrudes on his agency, stripping him of opportunities to learn and acknowledge that it is okay to not get things right all of the time. 

Through the experience of surviving perceived failures, your child will learn resilience. This grows a cognitively advanced skill of flexibility where he can learn to give himself and others “permission” to fail, which can make his world a less threatening and stressful place. Over-parenting in the sense of meeting your child’s every need is failing him. If he is constantly having you step in – often quite intrusively – this sends a very strong message that you do not believe in his capability of handling that situation.

It denies your child the opportunity to hone coping skills and may create a sense of frustration and breakdown of trust. Your child may feel “unseen” or “unheard”, which may manifest in tantrums or inappropriate behaviour in the attempt to be truly seen and heard. 

What children want and need is a parent who does not always meet all their needs, allowing them the experiences to learn to adjust and cope in their own unique way. This gives them a sense of confidence in themselves and the world.

Letting go
See yourself as an invisible safety net. Be present in your child’s life. Allow him to blossom and fail. Let him embrace both success and failure. Avoid intruding on the challenges your child may face, and allow him to overcome any obstacles that may come his way on his own. Communication is vital. Talk about your own experiences of failing and how you dealt with it. This allows for open communication around feelings of inadequacy or real areas of concern.

Verbalising your own disappointments as an adult will not make your child feel insecure or unsafe. It may actually give him permission to show weakness, while maintaining a sense of self-worth. 

Discuss any problems your child may have. Listen actively and focus on what he is saying. Know what is happening instead of imagining what may be happening. Open communication is important to building trust. 

Avoid over-parenting 
Abstaining from overcrowding or over-parenting requires self-reflection from your side. Ask yourself:  

  • Is this my anxiety?
  • Is this my fear?
  • Why I am so anxious or fearful?
  • Where is this coming from? 
  • What are the effects of my anxiety and fear on my child’s development?

These answers will help make you aware of the effects your parenting style may have on you and your family’s mental health. Being aware is the cornerstone to any behaviour change. Once you know what you need to focus on, take steps to shake off the mantle of the “helicopter”. 

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