Helicopter parents have been hovering for decades now. And since the first rotors started whirring, parenting coach Vicki Hoefle has been explaining why it’s harmful. There are apparently better ways to raise resilient, independent human beings who will successfully move out of your house. On paper, “duct tape parenting” looks like a decent way to get kids to sit still (and you to get a call from Social Services). But that sticky metaphor is really for you — it’s a way to get them to do more and you to do less.
Hoefle believes these ideas can be helpful as soon your kid can walk, so if you’re already envisioning your 14-month-old as a basement-dwelling 24-year-old, read on:
Helicoptering Disconnects Parents From Their Kids
One of the reasons helicoptering doesn’t work is that those parents do far too much for their kids. Waking them up, making breakfast, making sure they have all their school gear — you’re basically an employee with no paid holidays. “I saw parents who were emotionally disconnected from their kids and resentful because they were so busy with all this stuff,” Hoefle says. Of course you recognize you’re never going to get a “Heckuva, job Daddy,” from a toddler (much less a teenager), but the more you wrangle their life, the more it becomes the norm and the more entitled they become down the road.
Your Relationship Is The Blueprint For The Future
The opposite of helicoptering is … yachting? Actually, it’s like being hands-off. Hoefle says the best barometer for how your parent-child relationship is doing is if your kid shows respect and takes responsibility for their choices. It’s not the only barometer (teenagers are always bringing a storm in your house). But, when relationships aren’t on solid footing power struggles emerge. She says these small struggles eventually lead to larger conflicts and rebellion. Yeah, that might sound pedantic, but as she points out, “Whatever we teach them about conflict, or how you get someone to do what you want them to do, they’ll carry into all their relationships down the road.”
If They Can Walk, They Can Work
For young kids, building self-esteem is based on the ability to take care of themselves and contribute to a group (like your family, or their preschool class). You can boost this by giving them a choice of clothes they’re going to wear that day (pants or shirt?), or what they’re going to eat for lunch (peanut butter and jelly?), or what they want to read for a bedtime book (seriously? again?). Giving a kid agency also decreases the amount of things you have to worry about — even if it’s only half a percent. “This lessens the tension in the home. When kids become more self-involved, everyone can connect in more meaningful ways.” In other words: Pulling your own weight is helpful.
Their Happiness Is Not Your Responsibility
Hoefle says there’s a common misconception that parents are responsible for their kid’s happiness. “That’s a crock,” she says. “When you live in the real world, you have 4 bad days for every good one.” Parents often find this tough because they view their kids’ happiness as a measure of their own performance. “Don’t grade yourself on how happy your kids are.” Just use a pass/fail system based on whether they come home crying every day.
Worry More About How They Deal With Rejection and Failure
Dostoevsky knew what was up. This world is cruel and unfair, and the next tragedy is always lurking right around the corner: all important lessons for a young child. “Let them be angry and frustrated and feel failure, so they know they can get up and keep going,” she says. Hoefle’s advice is to let this happen early and often, so it’s not debilitating to deal with letdowns when they leave home. Added bonus: If your kid can handle disappointment, your holiday shopping just got a lot easier.
You’re Not Raising A Toddler, You’re Raising A Future Adult
It might help to think of your kid as an adult in the making, and act accordingly, says Hoefle. “Every decision you make today will bounce back up when they’re adults.” (Usually in a therapist’s office.) While you may be reacting in present, she says it’s how kids will handle difficult situations in the future that matters. “Parenting is about what happens for our kids between 18 and 80.” After 80, they’re on their own.