It’s become a very common phrase these days, partly because there are so many all around us. Almost everyone knows some parents who are excessively focused on keeping their children from experiencing any form of failure, disappointment or risk.
The so-called helicopter parent is very involved with her child. Usually her intentions are good. After all, she’s trying to be protective and keep her child safe and happy.
Recently a study was done about whether the good intentions of the helicopter parent might balance out some of the negatives. In 2015 researchers at Brigham Young University had 438 college students take an extensive survey about the type of parenting they received and their current functioning. They found absolutely nothing positive resulting from this type of hovering parenting.
Helicopter parenting has come up in my work in two different ways. First, people often ask me if helicopter parenting is the opposite of emotionally neglectful parenting (paying too much attention vs. not enough). Second, when I talk about emotionally attuned parenting, people sometimes think that I’m advocating the helicopter style.
“Are you suggesting that parents should hang on their child’s every feeling and need and try to fulfill it?,” some folks ask.
The answer is resoundingly NO. I am not suggesting any such thing.
In fact helicopter parenting is neither the opposite of Emotional Neglect nor a remedy for it.
Instead, it’s a clear example of Emotional Neglect. Remember that many loving parents inadvertently emotionally neglect their children. Even if the helicopter parent’s intentions are good, solving the child’s problems and preventing his every hurt still constitutes Emotional Neglect.
3 Ways Helicopter Parenting is Emotionally Neglectful
- Childhood is preparation for adulthood. Your child’s experiences of failure, disappointment and hurt, within reason, are opportunities for you to teach her how to handle these ubiquitous life circumstances. When you prevent these teachable moments, you are neglecting an important need that your child has.
- Excessively saving your child from difficult circumstances is a way of communicating, indirectly to your child, that he is not to be unhappy. The indirect message of the helicopter parent is, “You are not to feel hurt, feel disappointed, feel sad,” etc. This message sets your child up to be out of touch with his negative feelings, or even to be ashamed of them. This, clearly, is Emotional Neglect.
- The third indirect message of the helicopter parent is “Failure is bad.” When you swoop in and save your child from natural, normal failures, you are inadvertently teaching him never to try something he might fail at. This is a recipe for your child to be afraid to aspire and strive and stretch himself. That indirect but powerful message is Emotional Neglect.
Helicopter parenting has nothing to do with the child. It has everything to do with the parent.
3 Tips to Avoid Being a Helicopter Parent
- Focus your efforts not on saving your child, but on determining when to step in and when to let her flounder. Ask yourself what’s the potential lesson learned in this particular situation? How valuable is it? What’s the potential pain level to your child, and how does it weigh against the learning opportunity it provides?
- It’s your responsibility to manage your paternal instincts. You are hard-wired to protect protect protect. Sometimes you must say no to those instincts and do the opposite. Even if that makes you supremely uncomfortable.
- Address your anxiety. Most helicopter parenting is driven by anxiety. Be aware of your anxiety, how it drives you, and how it’s affecting your child. Medication and therapy are both proven effective. If you’re having great difficulty managing your own anxiety, please ask for help.
Like permissive parenting, helicopter parenting masquerades as love.
The child raised by a hovering parent may look back on a childhood that seems filled with attention and care. He will be puzzled about why now, as an adult, he feels so empty, lost, and alone. He will likely blame himself. He will be caught in the classic trap of the emotionally neglected (CEN).
If You Were Raised by Helicopter Parents
- Recognize that love and attention were not the only ingredients that you needed as a child. Perhaps you got too much of both. Pay attention to what your parents didn’t do (quite possibly due to a lack of knowledge on their part). They didn’t let you struggle, flail and fail enough. So now, you feel unprepared in the face of life situations that require you to face any of these.
- Try to discern the reason your parents hovered. Were they anxious? Were they achievement driven? Were they trying to do their best, and went overboard? Were they themselves raised this way? Understanding your parents will help you understand yourself. It will also inform you about what kind of boundaries you may need to have with them now.
- Start providing yourself with what you missed learning in childhood. Tune into your own emotions, and value them, especially the negative ones. Understand that failure is a good thing; it means that you’ve pushed yourself outside your comfort zone and taken a risk. Force yourself to take a small risk that poses a possibility of failure with the goal of learning how to cope with it.
- Learn everything you can about Emotional Neglect. See EmotionalNeglect.com and the book, Running on Empty.