Updated: Jun 14
My son and I were taking the dog for a walk. He’s 13. He’s also chatty. I feel truly blessed that he will engage in conversation with me because he provides me with tremendous insights into how to be a better parent. He also arms me with great content to speak to that will help others; he shares what he and his friends talk about.
On this walk, I asked about what he and his friends talk about as the worst things their parents do. “Oh, that’s easy mom. Helicoptering”.
I know a surprised look came across my face because I didn’t know he knew this term; pleasantly surprised! This is a juicy one. “Tell me more!”
And he began to unravel how teenagers feel when their parents’ ‘whirl’ around them, watching their every move, commenting on each error, protecting them from trying, preventing them from experiencing.
I asked him “Why do you think some parents choose to behave this way.”
The typical knee-jerk response “I don’t know” came and was quickly followed with “Maybe they were parented that way so that’s all they know.”
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘helicopter parent’ as a parent who is overly involved in the life of his or her child.
Parents Magazine provided an article on helicopter parenting by Kate Bayless. She provides this information:
· The term "helicopter parent" was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott's 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter; the term became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011.
· Helicopter parenting refers to "a style of parents who are over focused on their children," says Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders near Detroit and author of Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide. "They typically take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures," Dr. Daitch says.
· Ann Dunnewold, Ph. D., a licensed psychologist and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, calls it "overparenting." "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," Dr. Dunnewold explains.
The article continues to provide 4 common triggers as to why parents choose this style.
1. Fear of dire consequences: A low grade, not making the team, or not getting a certain job…parents are trying to prevent any of these non life-threatening (only seemingly) events from ever happening.
2. Feelings of anxiety: Worries about the economy, the job market, and the world in general can push parents toward taking more control over their child's life to protect them from ever being hurt or disappointed.
3. Overcompensation: Adults who felt unloved, neglected, or ignored as children can overcompensate with their own children.
4. Peer pressure from other parents: Guilt is a large component in this dynamic.
Want to read the article from parents.com?
Why Emotional Intelligence Matters
While all skills in emotional intelligence are important, there are a few to focus on as a helicopter parent. The purpose of your emotional intelligence development is to take you away from this type of parenting and into a style that will bring a more well-rounded approach for both you as the parent and your child. Plus, your child will learn emotional intelligence skills from you - setting them up for greater success in their life!
Reality Testing is the foundation!
This is the capacity to remain objective by seeing things as they really are. This includes recognizing when emotions or personal bias can cause one to be less objective.
So…what’s really happening and are you aware of it? Being able to see things as they really are will minimize the ‘drama’ of seemingly life-threatening experiences including not placing first, getting a low grade on a test, not being the most popular kid, being teased.
It will also ask that you take chart of your emotions and how they are impacting your thoughts and decisions. Instead of pushing your emotions onto your child, this will allow you to take stock of how your past experiences are interfering with your child’s experience.
You are not them and they are not you; which means they will not respond to life’s experiences the same way you will or interpret them the same way. Because they do not have the history that you have. It’s important to make this distinction.
Reality testing is related to:
- Emotional self-awareness: the ability to recognize your emotions and differentiate between the subtle changes of your emotions while knowing how they impact your thoughts and actions.
- Self-regard: respecting oneself while understanding and accepting your strengths and weaknesses; associated with feelings of inner strength and self-confidence.
- Problem solving: the ability to find solutions to problems in situations where emotions are involved; understanding how your emotions impact your ability to make decisions.
These are specific strategies to develop your reality testing which also involves developing your abilities in the 3 related EI skills. These 2 strategies and their corresponding exercise will develop your abilities across all 4 EI skills outlined above.
Strategy #1: Identify negative and irrational self-talk that clouds your logical judgment.
Think of a recent helicopter parent moment…
On a piece of paper, draw a chart with 5 columns labelled A-B-C-D-E (split the D column into 2)…
C – write down the unpleasant feelings and behaviours that accompanied this event (CONSEQUENCES)
A – write down the specific ‘thing’ that triggered the feelings and behaviours (ACTIVATION)
B – capture the self-talk that immediately followed the trigger; pin down what went through your mind (BELIEFS)
D – debate, dispute, discard the items in the BELIEFS column. Rigorously examine your internal dialogue, thoughts, values, beliefs; use key questions to debate and dispute (Where’s the proof? Alternate explanations/possibilities? Similar events/beliefs AND you were wrong? If this happened to someone else and they asked your advice, what would you say?) Items that do not resonate with who you are BELIEFS. Place those in the BELIEF column. Items that resonate with who you are, are TRUTHS. Put those in the TRUTH column.
E – what are the EFFECTS of your debate/dispute/discard? If you change your thoughts/beliefs, does this change your outcome, behaviour? How?
Doing this exercise on a regular basis will heighten your awareness of your inner thoughts (self-regard) that are triggering your emotions, enabling you to be more aware of your emotional state and the impact that has on your problem solving/decision making, behaviours and actions.
This heightened awareness will allow you to CATCH YOURSELF and make changes quickly toward minimizing helicopter tendencies.
Strategy #2: Identify obstacles that might prevent you from attaining your goals in all areas of your life before they bowl you over.
In a notebook on a blank piece of paper, in the middle of the page…
P - Write down a problem you experienced in the past week. Be accurate in your description based on how you felt about it and what you thought about it when it happened. Not how you think and feel now.
NOTE: as you repeat this exercise daily/weekly, you may also be able to easily identify problems you tend to encounter, repeatedly, because you’re not successfully solving them with the right blend of emotional intelligence skills.
…on the left side of the page…
D – Describe how you attempted to solve the problem. List out the steps you took toward your solution.
O – What was the outcome? Positive? Negative?
…on the right side of the page answer the following questions…
E – State the case by examining the problem and describing it as accurately and REALISTICALLY as possible. Look at it from the point of view of other people – even ask other people what they think. Be as objective as possible while being aware of how your emotions are impacting your objectivity. Remember that objectivity comes when you pay attention to FACTS rather than STORIES.
A – Generate alternative solutions and approaches to the problem by brainstorming. Just get out all ideas at this point. They don’t have to be realistic – just let them come out. Like an idea vomit.
E – Evaluate each alternative solution and consider the probable outcome of this approach to the problem. Prioritize from best to least favorable. Do a gut check before finalizing your list and make sure it also feels right. Choose your best option.
D – Deploy! Give your chosen solution a chance by putting it into play. Evaluate whether your solution solved the problem. If yes – high 5! If no, choose the next solution from your list.
The most adept problem solvers can identify obstacles based on 2 specific skills: intuition (hunches and impressions) and innovation (fresh new ways of viewing issues at hand). By cataloguing and evaluating problems you experience and how you tackled solving them, you train yourself to listen to hunches and impressions that are accurate (trusting your gut because you’ve gotten to know what it sounds like/feels like when it’s right) and you take time to reflect on solutions that you could have chosen but didn’t…arming you with a toolkit of choices the next time you’re faced with a similar problem.
When it comes to helicopter parenting, doing these exercises, arms you with skills that you will need to use in the heat of the moment. What you will find yourself doing is taking time – exercising impulse control – and giving yourself 1-2-3 breaths to check yourself before wrecking yourself.
Or worse – your child.
The physical practice of these exercises alerts you to internal thoughts which lead to feelings and then behaviours of wanting to control, over-protect, helicopter your child’s experiences and life.
This will free up the opportunity for your child to grow emotionally, learning to trust their intuition, trust their abilities, grow their own self-regard and problem-solving skills, know how to look at problems and test the reality of the situation to size up an appropriate and effective solution.
As you do these things, you will notice that your child takes the reigns of their own life, turning to you for your wisdom when they need, and using that wisdom in a way that is considerate of its value.
And you will have raised a child that is ready to take on the world with a skill set of emotional intelligence that greatly benefit their overall well-being and happiness.
Additional Resource: Babyjourney.net, have put together an in-depth guide on helicopter parenting. You can check it out here: https://babyjourney.net/what-is-helicopter-parenting/