By Ruth Klein, Ph.D.
Director, Mental Health Services
Jewish Community Services
Helicopter parents. You know the type: the aggressively over-involved parents who live their lives through their kids and are the bane of existence for the school principal, guidance counselor, camp director and little league coach.
“No,” you think. “I’m not one of ‘those’ parents. I am just acting as my child’s advocate in this complicated world.” Think again. Could you possibly be one of them?
Have you ever:
- Spoken to another parent about an argument between your children?
- Called the head of school, camp, playgroup, etc., to discuss your child’s progress?
- Watched your child play or interact with other children and felt the need to resist the temptation to get involved — or NOT resist?
- Completed, edited or assisted your child with an assignment to the point that the work could no longer be considered his or her own?
- Used the expression “she’s having a bad day” to describe your child’s misbehavior?
If you answered “Yes” to any one of these, you may be a helicopter parent! You have a lot of company. Of course, no one of these “proves” your membership in the club, and there may be valid reasons for your involvement. But if you’ve answered any these questions with an honest “yes,” it’s worth taking another look and reflecting on why.
Why do parents intervene? The motives are likely complicated. Sometimes parents believe that a situation is too complex or the outcome too important for their child to negotiate on his own. They may also believe that their intervention spares their child unnecessary aggravation or heartache. Some feel that they are being “good” parents by being involved in the details of their child’s life. Or parents may want to protect themselves from having to deal with the consequences of their child’s distress.
While we all would like to shield our loved ones from pain, the reality is that, in the long run, this is an impossible task. Experiencing difficulties is an inevitable and necessary part of growing up. Children learn problem solving skills by living through and negotiating conflict. And even more importantly, successfully managing their own “bumps in the road” helps to create a sense of self-confidence and independence.
There are, however, some circumstances in which parental (or adult) intervention is needed. Here are some questions to ask yourself in considering when (or when not) to become involved:
- Is this something that my child can handle well enough on his/her own?
- Is my child able to handle this situation well enough with coaching?
If you answered “Yes” to these questions, consider allowing your child to handle the situation him or herself. Be available for coaching or encouragement if necessary. If you answered “No,” the next question to ask yourself is: What are the implications of my child failing? Will the consequences be dangerous or life altering?
If the answer is “Yes,” then by all means, intervene! But if the risks are manageable, try to resist the urge to step in. Again, be available to strategize with and reassure your child, and if necessary to sympathize and debrief. Help your child (and yourself) to remember that in most cases we have the opportunity for “do-overs” and that we can learn from failures, sometimes even more than we learn from successes.
Because parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a FREE Parent Discussion Series. Whether your child is a newly talking toddler, a school-aged youngster navigating school and play dates, a teen facing a world of decisions or a young adult becoming independent, you’ll find that this discussion series offers insightful and realistic approaches to the many challenges of parenthood.
Discussion groups, open to the public, are held monthly at Jewish Community Services in Owings Mills, 3506 Gwynnbrook Avenue (at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC). Upcoming discussions are “Grandparenting in the 21st Century” (October 27), “Parenting without a Partner” (November 12), and “As a Parent, Knowing When to Hold and When to Fold” (December 10).
For more information and to register, visit jcsbaltimore.org-parenting-series or call 410-843-7568.