We love our children, so of course we want to protect them and look after them. It’s our job as parents, after all. However, there is a fine line between supporting our little ones and being overbearing, and it’s called helicopter parenting.
“Helicopter parenting refers to a style where parents are overly involved in their child's life, often to the point of micromanaging and overprotecting,” explains Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, family therapist and author of Small Steps To Great Parenting: An Essential Guide For Busy Families.
“These parents hover over their children (hence the term ‘helicopter’), continually intervening in their activities, decisions, and problems.”
While it’s easy to hurl terms around, it’s important to remember that helicopter parenting is often rooted in love, with parents genuinely wanting to provide support for their children.
It is also, too, easy to mistakenly label a responsive parent as a helicopter parent. Try to remember that every child/parent relationship is different, there are lots of different parenting styles, and some parents are simply trying to meet their child’s specific needs.
How does someone become a helicopter parent?
Very easily, as it turns out. “In today's world with constant news cycles, parents can easily become overwhelmed by stories of dangers that could harm their children, leading to overprotection,” says Dr Kalanit.
“Parents naturally want the best for their children. This desire, mixed with anxiety about the future and a competitive society, can drive them to take excessive control over their child's life.”
A tendency to hover over our children, however, isn’t always born from selfless intentions.
“Many parents also view their child's success as a mirror of their own parenting and feel pressure for the child to excel,” explains Dr Kalanit.
“Seeing other parents deeply involved in every aspect of their child's life can also create a sense of obligation or pressure to do the same.”
However, she adds that some parents may feel as if they lacked something in their own childhoods, leading them to overcompensate by being overly present in their child's life.
Why is helicopter parenting a bad thing?
It sounds, on paper, like a good thing: a parent loves and cares for their child, doing their best to protect them and steer them towards the good things in life.
However, there are a number of pitfalls to helicopter parenting, as Dr Kalanit explains. “Helicopter parenting may cause a child may develop a lack of independence,” she says. “This means that children might struggle with decision-making and problem-solving, becoming overly dependent on others.”
Low self-esteem is another concern of helicopter parenting, Dr Kalanit continues, noting that “constant intervention can suggest to the child that they're not capable or trustworthy”.
“Children gauge their capabilities based on the trust parents place in them to cope and manage age-appropriate tasks,” she points out.
“Doing everything for the child sends a message of incapability. Witnessing peers doing tasks they've been shielded from because of helicopter parenting might result in a child feeling inferior.”
Another unhappy side-effect of helicopter parenting is increased anxiety.
“Children might develop anxiety because they don't confront challenges and fears independently,” stresses Dr Kalanit.
“When they lack trust in their ability to manage or self-regulate and are overdependent on their parents, they might experience heightened anxiety in situations where parents aren't present.”
Signs you are a helicopter parent
While there are times you will need to protect your child (for example, if they are in danger of badly hurting themselves, if they need your help setting boundaries with others, or if they are still very young and need reassurance), it’s important to recognise when your caring nature veers into the world of helicopter parenting.
Signs can include the following:
You constantly correct your child, rather than allow them to fail/make their own mistakes.
Your child isn’t able to face certain age-appropriate obstacles on their own.
You constantly fight their battles for them.
Your child expects tricky tasks to be done for them.
You clean up after them, and often feel like a maid in your own home.
Your child finds it difficult to express an opposing opinion.
You do their schoolwork for them.
Your child struggles to handle themselves in challenging situations.
You constantly find yourself reasoning that “it would be quicker if I just did it for them”.
What to do if you suspect you are a helicopter parent
Addressing helicopter parenting starts with self-awareness, says Dr Kalanit.
“Recognizing and accepting this style is the first step. Discussing it with your partner can help explore your parenting style together.”
She also suggests taking the following steps to help curb your helicopter parenting tendencies:
Educate yourself about child development
“This can guide you in setting age-appropriate expectations. For example, when we allow children to try tying their shoes and they fail but persevere until they succeed (with appropriate encouragement), they build resilience and an inner trust in their capability to learn.”
Encourage children to assume age-appropriate responsibilities
“Letting kids face natural consequences is vital,” says Dr Kalanit. “Older siblings can be encouraged to guide and support younger ones, reducing sole dependency on you.”
Talk to teachers, counselors, or therapists
“This can provide an outside perspective on your child's age-related development.”
If you recognise that you lean towards the helicopter parenting style, consider seeking therapy.
“This can address underlying anxieties that fuel overprotectiveness,” says Dr Kalanit. “It might reflect personal fears, and addressing them can support you in your parenting journey.”
In conclusion, while every parent desires the best for their child, “striking a balance between involvement and granting autonomy is essential,” says Dr Kalanit.
“Children need space to grow, make mistakes, and learn, which is vital for their development into confident and resilient adults.”
A freelance writer and editor with over a decade of experience under her belt, new mum Kayleigh covers parenting, lifestyle, and entertainment content across a number of different titles – with the odd opinion-based rant thrown in for good measure!