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Helicopter Parents

A mother of 3-year-old twins believes she has to play with her children most of the day or they won’t grow and develop properly.

A father realizes his daughter is frustrated with doing her math problems, so he “leads” her to the correct answers.

A mother of teenagers reports leaving work on a daily basis to bring their soccer shoes, homework, and other forgotten items to school.

Does any of that sound familiar to you? If so, you might be a helicopter parent.

Helicopter parents over-manage, over-organize, and over-involve themselves in their child’s life. There’s sometimes a fine line between helping our child and hovering.

Hovering parents rob their children of two things: learning good coping skills and experiencing God’s grace.

Child development theorists agree that all children need a consistent and constant caregiver during the first two years of life. As children approach two years they need to begin a long process of developing autonomy. When parents become anxious (and most of us do) because we want to parent well, strange things can happen.

In an effort to make our child’s life as painless as possible, we become over-involved. We begin to believe we can control our child’s environment and development. Desiring to be a good parent leads us to make decisions that thwart the natural growth that happens from facing obstacles, anxieties, and even failures. This is neither healthy for the child nor the parent.

Natural problems and consequences are the best teachers of coping skills, and all children need options for how to meet the challenges of life. Children develop coping skills by being anxious and sometimes frustrated—coming up against the hard things in life. Our job as parents is not to control what happens to our children, but to empower them to find a repertoire of coping skills.

Let’s take the mother of twins. Being bored is not a parental problem; it’s the child’s problem. Mom can encourage the children to play by themselves. The children discover how to deal with boredom.

As children grow older the consequences of encouraging independence get heavier. A lower grade from forgotten homework is more severe than a few hours of boredom. What do you do as the stakes increase?

Begin with something that doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming at first. Encourage children to set a time, of their choice, to do their homework, and ask to see it when it is completed. If they ask for help be present, but don’t fix it for them. Encourage them to solve problems on their own. Often this raises the level of anxiety and frustration for them as well as us. Talk about how they feel and help them express their frustration, but don’t steal from them the opportunity to find a new coping skill. Stick to any decisions you have made together, and let your children deal with the natural consequences.

Sadly, when we hover we also rob ourselves and our children of the experience of grace. We see God’s grace most when we see our own humanity—our failures and limitations. Grace abounds in frustration, disillusionment, and difficult consequences. When we try to protect our children from failures or difficulties, we short-circuit the opportunity for them to see God at work. They see us at work instead.

But we can use difficulties as opportunities for both ourselves and our children to discover God’s grace. We can do this by telling about a time in our life when God delivered or forgave us and we experienced his grace. We can encourage them to talk about their feelings and assure them that God is listening too. Reading a Bible story about God’s faithfulness and care can inspire your children. Our job as parents, after all, is not to control what happens to our children, but to help them experience God’s grace in it.

Hover less; empower more; and trust God.

Ask Yourself . . .

Are you tired all the time because you are available 24/7 for your children?Are you finding no time to take care of your needs and desires?Are you solving your children’s problems?Do your children have a variety of coping skills?Is your marriage affected by the demands of your children?

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