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Do You Help your Child Too Much?

Helicopter parents.  It’s a term that references parents who hover over their kids, knee-deep in everything their kids do.  Helicopter parents, while well-intentioned, end up creating a sense of dependence in their kids.  Kids of helicopter parents feel it’s necessary to get their parents’ blessing or feedback on almost everything that the kids do.  As a toddler, that’s a good thing.  However, kids should become more independent as they age . . . but kids of helicopter parents have trouble with that.

Laissez-faire parents tend to let their kids do as they wish.  We’ve all seen parents who say something like, “I could tell my kids not to pick up the kitty, but the lesson will be more meaningful for them if they pick up the kitty and get scratched.  Kids tune out parents, but the temporary pain of being scratched will be remembered.”  Kids of laissez-faire parents end up learning a lot of lessons “the hard way”, and some of those painful lessons could have been avoided with parental intervention.

Both helicopter parents and laissez-faire parents support their own choices by finding fault with the choices of the other group.  Helicopter parents don’t want to be neglectful.  Laissez-faire parents don’t want to be fostering dependence in their kids. 

So, what’s a parent to do?  Answer: Consistently seek mid-ground in attending to your kids, balancing your need to attend to your kids and your kids’ age-appropriate need for autonomy.

Does four-year-old Felicia want to pet the kitty?  Tell her no.  If you’ve told her no several times, maybe letting her get a minor scratch (if a minor scratch is truly what you anticipate) is the best way for Felicia to learn this lesson.  However, if Felicia is eleven months old, it’s best not to let Felicia learn this lesson the laissez-faire way.  Perhaps the better response would be to pick up Felicia and remove her from the kitty’s environment . . . or pick up kitty and remove kitty from Felicia’s environment.

Does Frankie want to ride his scooter outside even though it’s snowing?  If Frankie is a toddler, it’s best to tell him no and explain your flow of logic.  For example, “Frankie, you can’t ride your scooter outside today because it is cold and snowing.  You need to be inside, where you are warm and safe.  Further, your scooter was not built to roll across snow.”  As Frankie matures, rather than continue to make decisions for Frankie, you can help Frankie make his own decisions.  You could say, “Is riding your scooter outside what you really want to do?  How do you plan to stay warm?  Will this be hard on your scooter?”  If you ask Frankie these questions, and he still wants to ride his scooter, then perhaps you should let him ride the scooter for a few minutes, hoping that the chill and difficulty will cause him to give up the endeavor.  (Meanwhile, you will want to keep a watch on Frankie to ensure his safety.)  As Frankie matures further, you will gradually delegate greater decision-making authority to him.  Note, however, that, as long as Frankie is a minor and in your care, you will always reserve veto authority (which you should generally use sparingly).

(NOTE:  If you have a special-needs child whose decision-making ability is impaired, you may need to be a helicopter parent out of sheer necessity.)

In sum, when making parenting decisions, you are advised to keep in mind what kind of adults you want your kids to become . . . and parent to that goal in an age-appropriate manner.  It can be tough to keep that “big picture” in mind when you are dealing with so many day-to-day issues, and no parent succeeds 100% of the time.  Seeking that mid-ground as much as you reasonably can is a lofty goal, and you must give it your best effort . . . every day. 

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