Do you hover over your kids while they’re doing homework? Take more than your share of responsibility for their actions –– and inactions? Attempt to micro-manage their schedules with activities and events? You may be a closet helicopter parent! Most of the time, this tendency is borne out of fear, anxiety, or misplaced guilt. But the problem is that being a helicopter parent robs our kids of the opportunity to learn –– for themselves –– from their own experiences.
So if you’re struggling to reform your helicopter-parent ways, begin to put the following practices into action:
- Remind them only once. No one likes a nag, and no one likes being a nag. So give a single reminder when you must, and then step back and let your kids rise to the occasion.
- Leave it. Just because you can fix something doesn’t mean you have to, or even that you should. So the next time you realize –– in between taking your kids to the bus stop and leaving for work –– that your son’s homework (or his lunchbox, field trip permission form, or anything else he meant to bring to school) is on the kitchen table, leave it. The consequences he’ll face will probably be small, but they’ll leave a lasting impression –– and likely help cure his forgetfulness.
- Stop taking responsibility for your kids’ actions. You know what I’m talking about –– that subconscious impulse to excuse our kids’ actions because “we” didn’t remember to remind them. Let’s stop that altogether. Remember, too, that our kids pick up on that hesitation and self-doubt, and it only serves to make them think it really is our fault!
- Let them fail. This is a biggie. We often feel like our kids’ performance is somehow (intimately) connected to our parenting skills –– “If they fail, I fail.” But the truth is that our kids learn from failing, a whole heck-of-a-lot more than they do from being rescued! Certainly, there are times when an occasional save is needed and appreciated, but it shouldn’t become an everyday occurrence.
- Let them learn from their own experiences. I know –– it’s our job to protect our kids from anything uncomfortable. But the truth is that uncomfortable learning experiences are often powerful ones. They stick with us and prompt us to change our behavior. And as much as we’d like to transfer our knowledge to our kids simply be telling them what we’ve experienced, it doesn’t work that way. We have to let them learn some things for themselves. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to be there to walk alongside them, of course! It just means that we have to let them learn some lessons first-hand, even if it’s uncomfortable for them –– and us.
- Focus on equipping your kids with the skills they need. You’re not in class with your kids all day long. You’re not there on the school bus. You can’t possibly be responsible for everything your kids do or should be doing. Instead, you have to trust that you’ve equipped them with the skills to do their job, and when you see that they’re struggling, step in and help them gain the skill they’re missing. So instead of running their gym shoes over to school mid-day, teach them how to make a calendar to keep by the front door that lists the supplies they’ll need on different days of the week.
- Don’t do for your kids what they can do for themselves. Here’s another habit we grew into out of love for our kids, right? But we have to remember that they’re capable. Think back to that look of pride on when, as toddlers, they did something for themselves for the first time. Letting them do for themselves what they’re really capable of doing –– whether it’s making their own lunches or cleaning their own rooms—is an opportunity to keep on giving them that “I’m so proud of myself!” experience.
- Count the stakes. Right now, the stakes are probably pretty small. Forgetting their homework means getting a zero on one assignment, not the marking period. But as they get older –– and are more on their own –– the stakes are higher. One irresponsible decision could mean losing a job, getting into a car accident, or worse. So remind yourself now that they stakes aren’t that high just yet. The cost will teach them, but not hurt them. And the opposite is just as true –– not teaching them to be responsible now virtually ensures that they’ll pay a higher price later.
- Recognize the paradox. Letting your kids learn from their own mistakes isn’t bad parenting –– it’s phenomenal parenting! It’s all about preparing them for adulthood.
- Name the feeling. If your efforts to pull back from being a helicopter parent make you feel a little uncomfortable, you’re probably doing something right. Instead of curing that unsettling feeling but stepping in and doing whatever it is you’re trying to remind yourself not to do, name the feeling. Saying it out loud (“Letting him get a zero on that homework assignment because I didn’t drive back to school at 8:00 p.m. for his math book, feels uncomfortable”) or writing it a journal can help you process what you're feeling without giving in to the temptation to over-parent.
Finally, remember that this is a process. We’re not going to get it right every time. What counts, though, is that we’re making progress and focusing more on what prepares our kids for adulthood than on what alienates our anxiety in the moment.