Finding that balance between holding back and stepping in to help your child is one of the things that make parenting challenging.
Every parent wants to help their child as much as possible, but they also desire them to grow into a happy and independent adult. Genuine happiness in adulthood comes from liking yourself, which often means being good at what’s important to you. To give your child that strong sense of personal power as they grow into adulthood, you must let them learn practical lessons by making their own mistakes in childhood.
Consequently, many experts have warned against helicopter parenting. Ann Dunnewold, Ph. D., a licensed psychologist and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, defines helicopter parenting simply as over-parenting. “It means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and over perfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting.”
Helicopter Parenting: How Does it Affect my Child?
At the University of Minnesota, researchers looked to see how excessive control over toddlers by their parents affected the development of their child’s behavioral and emotional control. As parents, they were unwilling to see their child unhappy, so they solved or intervened in all of their problems. The research also looked into how they managed social situations and friendships as they reached pre-adolescence. Results showed that children whose mothers micromanaged at age 2 had a significantly harder time regulating their emotions and controlling their behavior as they age.
These children self-reported more emotional difficulties and school-related problems at age five and ten. They were prone to acting out, and this affected their academic success in some cases. Below are some specific effects of helicopter parenting:
- Sense of entitlement. As a parent, if you’re always at your child’s beck and call, continuously monitoring and ready to jump in, then your child might develop this mentality that it is their right to always get what they want. Instead of seeing other people’s help as the kindness that it is, they might see it as their right in adulthood.
- Poor decision making. Making decisions is something everybody does every day as they go through life. Decision making is not just reserved for the workplace. A child raised through helicopter parenting might struggle to decide how to deal with a demanding professor, roommate, coworker, or even friend. Every situation demands a decision.
- Immature coping skills. Discomforts are part of everyday life. But a sheltered child might struggle to sit with even a little discomfort. This inability to cope can cause the child to lash out and take the frustration out on others. Other things the child might not be able to cope with include failure, loss, and disappointment.
How Do I Raise My Child to Be Self-Sufficient and Genuinely Happy?
Now that you understand helicopter parenting and its effect, does that mean you should adopt a hands-off approach? Of course not. Your job is to find a balance. “Parents play a critical role in helping their children learn to manage their emotions and behavior independently,” said Nicole Perry, the lead author of the research by the University of Minnesota. “Children need a sensitive parent to help guide them through ‘emotionally taxing situations.’ At other times, the parent may need to hold back.”
So how can you be involved without smothering your child’s development? Below are a few ways to do that:
- Concentrate on your child’s efforts. Concentrating on the effort instead of the end result teaches the child that there’s a process to achievement. That every achievement requires not luck but work, and that failure and disappointments are part of that process. This is the core difference between a child who handles failure with grace and another who personalizes it and gives in to frustration, eventually giving up. If you step in to solve the problems so that they don’t fail, they will not form this link. If they do well in a test, congratulate them on the effort . However, if they fail, let them take that and make sure that they learn from it. Did they try hard enough, or is it just unlucky, or is life just not fair? As adults, we know these things can all be true, and we would be doing our child a disservice if we pretended it was otherwise.
- Reduce technology and toys to increase self-reliance. The same way some adults search for escape in things is the same way children use toys and video games for escape. Those toys may provide a temporary escape from unhappiness, but they also let children avoid facing up to issues. This is not to say that it should never be the case. However, if it becomes a default to stop them from processing problems, they won’t learn how to move on.
- Don’t always give in to the urge to alleviate your child’s boredom. When children are bored, parents often feel the need to get them busy. Research has shown that this isn’t a good idea. This is because it prevents children from using their imagination, observing the world around them, and chasing their own thoughts. It also means that when on their own, they will struggle with their own company. Dr. Teresa Belton, a senior researcher at the University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, interviewed several authors on the importance of boredom. Meera Syal, author of The House of Hidden Mothers, said boredom was her creative state in childhood. “Enforced solitude alone with a blank page is a wonderful spur,” she explained. While Prof Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist, and expert on brain deterioration, recounted her childhood growing up in a family with little money. “She happily entertained herself with making up stories, drawing pictures of her stories, and going to the library,” Dr. Belton said. We will not always be possible to entertain our children when they leave home, and like anything, it is a skill that needs to be learned.
- Teach financial skills. A lot of adults struggle with managing their finances. Knowing how to make financial decisions will help your child lead a financially healthy life. This hugely contributes to happiness and self-sufficiency. A report by researchers at the University of Cambridge revealed that kids’ money habits are formed by age 7. So when you give your child that pocket money, leave them alone to spend it how they like. The urge to guide their spending will be strong, but try to hold back as much as you can. In spending, they get to realize when money is well-spent and when they’ve wasted it. Additionally, when your child wants something, encourage them to save up their pocket money and buy it. Don’t always take from your own pocket to buy for them. This will also teach your child how to delay gratification, which can be a good predictor of adulthood success. money and delayed gratification.
- Involve your child in decision making. To improve your child’s critical thinking skills, involve your child in decision making instead of always doing it for them. Choose age-appropriate situations and let your child decide. For those long days in the holidays, sit down and let them have to compromise with siblings. Rather than always get what they want, they will learn about compromise.
Final Thoughts on Happiness Might Mean Unhappiness
Ultimately, sensitive parenting requires knowing how to recognize and seize the teachable moments. After that, what you will need is consistency. Understand that these lessons can’t be imparted by doing them once or twice. You will need to be patient and strategically insistent. As with all things, both parents must agree with this idea or children will just go between joint plan