With the school year starting again, it’s tempting to do everything possible to ensure our kids are getting started on the right foot. But new research suggests there is such a thing as doing too much–and that what kids need most is help managing and understanding their emotions–not more of a push into academics.
According to a study by Dr. Nicole Perry
recently published in Developmental Psychology,
kids with “helicopter parents” were found to be less capable of dealing with the challenges of growing up than kids whose parents had other parenting styles.
She and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota followed 422 kids over eight years, assessing them at ages two, five, and ten, as part of a project to understand their social and emotional development. The researchers also observed parent-child pairs, asking them to play as they would at home.
Hovering doesn’t let kids learn to manage their emotions
Those parents who showed “helicopter” parenting tendencies–constantly managing their children’s interactions, cleaning up after the children, and so on–were associated with having kids who were less well-regulated in their behaviors and feelings at age two. Dr. Perry also found that, for five-year-olds, those who were better regulated tended to have fewer emotional problems and better social skills. For ten-year-olds, those who were better regulated tended to do better in school.
Moving from hovering to helping with hard feelings
This study is provocative in suggesting that kids don’t need more management–rather, they need more support (and modeling) in coping with a range of emotions. Whether they’re feeling upset about sharing toys or worried about other kids in class, often they can use help figuring out what they’re feeling, discussing those feelings, and deciding what to do in response. Some ideas for helping kids regulate include:
1) Change the questions you ask at dinnertime
Instead of asking about accomplishments, try: “What made you feel (happy, sad, excited) today? Tell me more.” As you go on, you can shift the emotion words and make them more complex. See if everyone can take a turn.
2) Put emotion words in a hat
Take a thesaurus or look up “emotion words” online, then write them on slips of paper and stick them in a hat or box. Take turns picking one at random and describing an experience that makes you feel that way.
3) Talk about and test coping skills
Help kids practice time-tested strategies to cope with frustration or anger (taking deep breaths, taking an activity break) before they need to use them in real time. Make a quick way of reminding kids about the strategies, or put a picture of them on the wall–and then show them that picture when they’re having a hard time.
By starting simple, it’s possible to shift away from hovering and toward helping kids manage their own feelings and lives–the best way to help them succceed in the long run.