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Stepping back from helicopter parenting


Protecting your child without over-protecting — and helping them learn and grow in the process.

You’ve probably heard of helicopter parents — it’s a term used to describe parents who hover over their children and micromanage their lives. Prime examples of helicopter parenting include following a preschooler around the playground to make sure he or she never falls, calling other parents to sort out your child’s relationship issues with their children, and doing or redoing your child’s homework. In the young adult years, helicopter parents might call their child’s teacher or professor regarding a grade they don’t feel is fair. Helicopter parents don’t let their kids fail because they want to protect their children from adversity.


Overprotecting your child might feel like the right thing in the moment, but consider the consequences. In doing so, parents prevent children from trying out some very important skills — standing up for themselves, making decisions and learning from mistakes. These skills are important if your child is to eventually become self-sufficient. If you do your child’s science poster for him, he will likely get a good grade. But what happens when he has to prepare a presentation in college? How will he do the work then? If he fails the class, will he know how to cope?


Avoid conveying the impression that you doubt your child’s abilities, that he or she is too fragile to recover from failure, or that you don’t trust him or her. Instead, let your words and actions inspire your child to reach to his or her full potential.


Letting your child learn


Allowing your child to learn from failure requires you to step back and let your child experience failure in the first place.


If you’re like most parents, you might struggle with finding the balance between stepping in and protecting your child versus stepping back and allowing your child to grow — a delicate balance that’s continually shifting as your child gets older.


If your child is facing a situation in which his or her safety is at risk, your intervention is appropriate and necessary. But if your child has broken a rule at school or hasn’t completed an assignment on time, let him or her face the consequences. This will help your child learn that the rules apply to him or her and to keep better track of assignments and deadlines.


Also, make room for your child to advocate for himself or herself. If your child thinks a teacher is being unfair, encourage him or her to respectfully speak up. If your child experiences bumps in a friendship, avoid interfering. Instead, offer a listening ear. Work with your child to come up with a solution or discuss what he or she thinks is the best way forward. Offer your support and give advice when asked.


Support your child while letting him or her learn life’s lessons. Keep in mind that by allowing your child to face challenges and develop strategies for dealing with them, you’re providing important future skills.


Letting go


Building resilience in your child requires a certain amount of letting go from you, the parent and protector. It can be a little scary at times. But it’s important to trust your child. It doesn’t have to be all at once. You don’t want to ask your child to do anything that’s inappropriate.


When a parent regards a child with confidence in what he or she can do, that confidence blooms and grows within the child, as well. If you embrace the power of growth and learning, your child will, too. If you believe your child can make it through stressful experiences, your child will believe it, too.


By giving your child the right amount of opportunity to face challenges, learn adaptive skills — even when it involves some trial and error — and thrive in spite of failure, you’ll be giving them the necessary skills to become an independent, thriving adult.

This parenting advice originally appeared in the Mayo Clinic Guide to Raising a Healthy Child.

Angela Mattke

Angela C. Mattke, M.D.

Dr. Mattke is a general pediatrician in the Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. In addition to being Medical Editor of “Mayo Clinic Guide to Raising a Healthy Child,” She is host of Mayo Clinic’s interactive Facebook Live show and podcast called, “#AskTheMayoMom,” where she discusses and answers audience questions about common pediatric health topics. You can follow her on Twitter at @DrAngelaMattke. For more information about pediatric health topics, follow @mayoclinickids on Twitter. 

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