Your kid has low self-confidence. Or your child suffers from anxiety and depression. And you know, somehow, that it’s your fault. You’re a crappy parent.
So, you try harder.
You choose your child’s activities and friends. You solve your child’s problems and make your child’s decisions. Perhaps you’ve witnessed that new mom who stops her baby from walking, fearing the child will fall. (I witnessed this, and it took stern direction from the pediatrician to insist that mom let her daughter stand up!)
You jump to the rescue because you know life is hard and you don’t want your child to experience negative emotions. You’ll do anything to soothe your child’s anxiety. To boost your child’s depressed mood. To raise his or her self-confidence. You fear failure will impact your child’s future. (If he sits on the bench this week, he’ll be crushed.)
We’ve witnessed the parent who is on the sideline at sports matches, directing every movement the child makes, demanding the coach do this and that. And we have seen - or been - the parent who does everything for the child - even the teen - because kids shouldn’t have work, they should have fun!
Perhaps dad won’t let his kid mow the lawn because the teen might get hurt - instead of instructing his son how to use the mower safely and effectively. Or Mom chooses the child’s high school and college courses - instead of opening a dialogue with the student to make his or her own informed choices. Maybe Dad does the math homework and the science project. He insists the kids pick up their toys, but ends up doing it himself. Or Mom provides the child with a weekly to-do list - instead of helping the young child craft the list or demanding the older child write his or her own list!
Because, let’s face it, parenting is hard work. Don’t even pretend you disagree. Sure, it’s a joy - but it takes focus, time, attention, effort…. By stepping in, you eliminate the step of asking (or pleading). You side-step the escalation of discipline and punishments. You avoid your own anxiety and pain of witnessing your child in pain. (I just can’t stand to see her cry!) Or, while it is hard to admit, you feel your own identity is reflected in your child’s success - or failure. (My daughter is on the honor roll again!)
Congratulations. You’re what society calls a helicopter parent.
Take Logan’s mom as an example. She tried harder.
I watched six-year-old Logan struggle with his red and blue hero-themed jacket. “Mom, I can’t,” he whined. With his jacket hanging over one shoulder, he spun around as he passed his hand over the arm hole several times. His spinning struggle ensured his hand missed the sleeve. His characteristic screaming tantrum emerged.
From across the room, his mom watched him while I observed her.
Did Mom let him try? Did she coach him?
Nope. Her own emotional crap got in the way. Oblivious to the teaching moment, and immersed in her own fears, his mom put his jacket on for him while she continued to chat with me.
“Shouldn’t he do that for himself?” I asked.
Her face ashen, she said, “Oh, no. He gets so upset! I can’t take it. And one of his episodes will ruin his whole day. And mine.”
Right. I considered how I’ve met this child in his twenties: Logan will become the student whose mommy calls about his less than stellar performance.
“Logan is a good boy.”
Respectfully, I said, “Missus Gunderson. Federal law - FERPA - does not permit me to discuss my students with anyone but the administration and the student. I can’t even disclose if your son is at this school, never mind if he’s in my class. Unless the student files a waiver.”
“I know he’s in your class. He told me he’s not getting an A. I’m sure if you review his work, you’ll see what a good boy he is.”
Logan and Logan’s Mommy were a pair of many similar pairs I met during my tenure as a professor. Missus Gunderson practices what is called cosseting or helicopter parenting: a parent who is overly involved in his or her child’s life. Like a helicopter, these parents hover - and swoop down to rescue the child no matter the challenge.
What do you think results from these acts of over-parenting? Do you raise a self-confident, happy child? Does your child’s anxiety and depression evaporate? Is the result a well-adjusted, emotionally intelligent adult?
No. The result is an adult who cannot manage his or her emotions or behavior. Who shows less creativity, spontaneity, or initiative. The person hasn’t been given the space to learn how. The resulting adult is characteristically less attentive to others’ emotions. It’s been all about him or her for so long that understanding others’ needs is a foreign concept.
Consider the teen who comes home from school, trained to toss his clothes in the foyer, trash the kitchen for a snack, and plop on the couch to rest from his grueling school day. Mom and Dad arrive home and clean up, cook dinner, feed the dog, throw out the garbage, do junior’s homework for him… The teen has no concept of others’ needs and would not take the initiative to make dinner and clean up so Mom and Dad can chill after long workdays!
What you have is a kid - and then an adult - with less self-confidence, less self-respect, reduced life-fulfillment, low self-acceptance, and prone to anxiety, depression, and stress. Your trying harder doesn’t cure that emotional instability. Consider how many Millennials and Gen Z adults act entitled, struggle with emotional regulation and suffer the cognitive distortion of the fallacy of fairness. Mistakes are someone else’s fault. When life doesn’t go the way the person wants, it’s not fair! Consequences, never experienced, become intolerable.
The everyone-gets-a-trophy child turns into the adult with unrealistic expectations. (No, you don’t make six-figures as an intern!) We are also witnessing a rash of young adults refusing to become parents (Who wants that responsibility?!) and a society plagued by adults who have no autonomy, who lack problem-solving skills, and who rely heavily on government support and intervention.
You commit helicopter parenting from a place of love. But it’s the place of love created from your own trauma. Your act of trying harder digs the hole deeper - for both you and your kid!
But all is not lost. You can turn your kid - and yourself - around!
As we learn in BREAK, your own script dictates your less-than-ideal parenting style. Perhaps you struggle with your own sense of rejection and never want your child to feel misunderstood, unloved, or unappreciated. Perhaps you struggle with your own experience of feeling abandoned and ignored and never want your child to feel alone. Research confirms the helicopter approach is an attempt to reverse the neglect and abuse the parent suffered.
Over-compensating as a parent to your children will not cure your experience of neglect. In fact, the research reveals the only “benefit” of helicopter parenting is that the parent experiences comfort in his or her own emotional addiction cycle! When you succumb to your own pattern, you not only strengthen your child’s learned helplessness and his or her emotional addiction cycle, but also you cement your own.
Let’s not confuse helicopter parenting with attentive parenting. An attentive parent provides and encourages developmental-appropriate, age-appropriate challenges to the child. A two-year-old will probably struggle with donning a jacket as her motor skills are not developed enough to accomplish the task. Assistance and instruction are key to the two-year-old developing those skills. And that’s the point. With instruction and granting the child autonomy, you raise an independent and competent child.
The healthy parenting approach is to allow and provide age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate challenges and freedom to the child. In these acts of hands-off encouragement, you provide your child the opportunity to practice critical thinking, understand and establish his or her own boundaries, and experience and moderate his or her emotional response. You nurture the child’s independence and self-sufficiency.
You realize this. But how do you consistently be the attentive parent when your script compels you to swoop down helicopter style?
Being the attentive parent is impossible not only because your script dictates the helicopter approach but also because your child is running his or her own emotional addiction cycle! Your son or daughter will try every trick and emotional appeal to entice you to step in (particularly if you have historically done so). Listen for the phrases: I can’t. I don’t know. I tried already. Don’t you love me? Don’t you care? I’ll get hurt. You’re better at it.Notice how these phrases will trigger your script!
You can BREAK the pattern.
Wouldn’t you love to confidently and authentically:
- Let - and encourage - your child do for himself or herself. After BREAK METHOD, Logan’s mom teaches him to focus on positioning his hand. She encourages him to try and fail and grants him the opportunity to celebrate when he succeeds!
- Let your child fail, freak, and fumble. No matter your child’s emotional attack or protestations, you will listen, guide, and nurture. Without freaking out or rescuing!
- Encourage your child to take calculated risks. Should he join the chess team? Wouldn’t you like to engage in a dialogue to encourage your child to choose his or her direction? You can if you work on changing your emotional patterned response.
- Encourage your child to decide for himself or herself. After BREAK, you will consistently be able to ask: What do you think you should do? Why do you think that’s a good decision? What’s your reasoning? And you won’t feel compelled to rescue or fix or save your kid.
And you will find parenting is a joy and not a chore you're failing!
Sounds good, right? Imagine that world.
But can you be the best parent you can be if you haven’t sorted out your own issues? You can’t. But being the super-parent IS POSSIBLE.
BREAK METHOD will help you break your helicopter, eliminate dangerous parenting styles, and help you help your child - and yourself.
You can start by watching Bizzie Gold’s The Modern Good podcast episode: Oops… Parenting Mistakes You Didn’t Know You Were Making. July 14, 2022.
Or get serious, take radical personal responsibility, and take the Brain Pattern Assessment to rapidly rewire you behavioral responses.