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The Consequences of Helicopter Parenting

We would certainly take objection to parents who are not teaching their children to read or do math because we know how difficult life will be without those skills. Why is responsibility any different?

When we do not teach our children responsibility, we send them into the world without a skill that they absolutely need to be successful. By taking the time to really teach children about taking ownership over their behavior, we are really installing in them something that they will use for life.

 If we want our children to be more independent and responsible, try not to be a “helicopter parent”. Don’t do for your child what they can do for themselves. For example, instead of constantly “reminding” our child of what they already know (remember, reminding is often just a euphemism for nagging!), let consequences teach whenever possible.

When our child stages a scene in front of witnesses, the ability to follow through with consequences grows more difficult (we have our own anger, now supercharged by humiliation). A vast body of psychological research tells us that any attention we give to a bad behavior, will only reinforce that behavior. Yet let’s say  our kid just called us an a–hole in front of the neighbors. Unless we are the Buddha, ignoring it is not an option. And, ignoring it won’t make it go away. So we need to do something.

To start, I encourage you not to always give advice. When your child comes to you with a problem, your natural reflex may be to tell them the logical answer. It is faster and more efficient. But human are good at logic. If the answer was a logical one, they probably wouldn’t have to seek guidance. When you tell someone what to do, you are training them to come to you when they have a problem. It is like a student cheating in school. They turn to you for the answer on the test and you give it to him and he gets it right. But he doesn’t really understand why it is the right answer. What he has really learned is that next time he has a problem, he can turn to you for the right answer.

I suggest the “less is more” approach. By reacting calmly, not irritably, you’re showing your child you have faith in her ability to find a way to solve her problem on her own. Whenever possible, encourage kids to solve their own problems instead of playing judge and jury. When siblings fight, the worst three words in the English language are: “who started it?”. Why? Because a) you’re assuming that one child is guilty and the other innocent; b) neither is going to admit “I started it” and take the blame c) even if you discover who started it, the goal is to end it, not play detective.

Sometimes, however, you have to intervene to protect your children from hurting each other. But when you step in, it’s important not to take sides. Instead state your values briefly and firmly-without accusing or attacking either child. For example, you could say: “In this home, there is no hitting (hurting, name calling, pinching, pushing)”. A statement I used with my son was “I will not let one child I love, hurt another child I love”.

Like gasoline on a fire, words seem to fuel your emotions. Since talking is out of the question until someone is calm, you have to rely use your nonverbal skills to deescalate the behavior. For example, let’s say you get upset with your child for not telling the truth. The child is acutely aware of your physical presence, and your body is your most useful tool. If you, put your hands on your hips, or use your size to intimidate or threaten her, you will make her feel smaller and more defensive. This increases the possibility that she’ll become assaultive and lash out at you or at someone smaller when you aren’t around. Without giving up your authority, you must communicate openness, caring, and confidence through your relaxed posture, facial expression, and behavior.

The key to this Houdini act is to detach yourself psychologically.

Detachment occurs when you are able to separate the act from the actors, the people from their behaviors, the sin from the sinners. If someone your love had the flu and cancelled plans with you, you would understand. You wouldn’t take it personally or blame the person for being inconsiderate or weak. Instead, in your mind, you would probably separate the person from the illness, knowing that it was the illness, rather than your loved one, that caused the change of plans. That is detachment

Whatever the child says or does, don’t take it personally. Your emotions can draw you into the struggle, impede your ability to focus on her, and make you less effective. This doesn’t mean that you ignore her or cut off contact. Rather, it means that you aren’t getting hooked into an emotional response that makes it harder for you to be effective. You can remain neutrally involved, giving her attention with your presence and listening. You don’t have to say or do anything.  Your message to her is, that you’re not going to respond or join in, but when she’s ready to make other choices, you’ll be there.

You must first decide what you want the child to do. The best way to get rid of unwanted behavior is to train a desirable one to replace it. So turn “I want him to stop having tantrums” into “I want him to stay calm and not to raise his voice when I say no to him.” Then you tell the child exactly what you would like him to do instead. You must make clear what behavior you’re looking for, what would be the acceptable response.

Another important point, is to make the request in the positive, rather then the negative. If we want someone to stop shouting, we can for example, suggest: “I’d prefer you talk in a calm voice.” The idea is that we need to let the other person know what we want instead of what they are already doing. If we say stop doing so and so, they may be confused on what else they can do, so they simply continue acting as they always have.

You don’t have to muddy the waters by getting into why he should do it. “When you get mad at your sister, I want you to use words or come tell me about it or just get away from her. No matter what, I want you to keep your hands to yourself.”

Whenever you see the child do what you would like, or even do something that’s a step in the right direction, you not only pay attention to that behavior, but you praise it. You direct verbal recognition using specific, praising terms. “You were angry at me, but you just used words and that’s great!” Add a smile, a hug, a kiss, a pat on the shoulder. Verbal praise grows more effective when combined with a reassuring touch.

The Consequences of Helicopter Parenting

Aaron Karmin

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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2019). The Consequences of Helicopter Parenting. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Jun 2019
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