From author and educator Amy Tiemann, Ph.D., A close relationship with your kids is a gift. But, it’s possible to become so overinvolved that your kids don’t learn to spread their wings. When we think about overprotective, hovering “helicopter parents,” it's easy to see examples of other parents hovering, but hard to see it in ourselves. But let’s admit it, most of us experience times when we do things for our kids that they can do for themselves, or personally take on problems that they are capable of solving on their own. My new book, "Courageous Parents, Confident Kids — Letting Go So You Both Can Grow," was written in collaboration with 14 award-winning writers and experts to help each family develop its own courageous path to raising independent, competent kids. Here are four steps to help you “ground” helicopter parenting: Develop your child's capabilities and sense of personal significance.Kids have an innate need to feel important and make a contribution, and parents need to develop important roles for kids within the family. Personal significance comes from doing chores and family activities. It takes time to train kids and develop their skills, but it is worth it. Preschoolers can help wash windows or wipe down counters, and 8- to 10-year-olds can help cook meals and learn to do laundry. Think about the skills young adults will need once they leave home and start working on them now. Even beyond the actual skills, the sense of participation, responsibility and independence are crucial values to develop. Along with this comes letting kids experience the consequences of their actions and not bailing them out all the time. If they forget their homework or lunch, they should work out their next steps rather than calling the parents to deliver the missing items. Some school principals have even created “no-rescue” policies to reinforce this idea. Don't let your own fear and ego hold back your child's development.
It is important to let children have their own experiences, including both success and failure. What looks like a “failure” can be an important growth experience, and does not mean that you are a failure as a parent. Letting kids try new things and occasionally failing is a good thing. Isn't it better that children learn to cope with these experiences when they are still living within our families? College counselors report that first-year college students are having a hard time because they are either too coddled or too brittle to face their newly independent lives. "Courageous Parents, Confident Kids" contributor Maya Frost learned how difficult and valuable these experiences are when her family moved to Mexico when her youngest daughter was a freshman in high school. It was a very trying year for her daughter Talya as she struggled to fit into a new culture, but a move that paid off with incredible growth and learning experiences. Become familiar with your own parenting style and be aware of the tendencies that come along with each style.
Leadership expert Jamie Woolf has developed a "Parenting Mode" framework that helps parents make the most of their own parenting style and prevents the style from running amok during times of stress and worry. "Achiever" parents set the bar high but can become too caught up in their child's accomplishments. Their challenge is to listen without judgment. "Liberator" parents foster individuality. They strive to foster independent thinking. But, they can sometimes fail to show empathy for a kid's need to belong. Their challenge is to be supportive even as they let their children explore their uniqueness. And "Connectors" sense of parenting satisfaction comes from emotional connection with their child. They may rush in to protect their child or get overly involved with their child's emotional life. Too much prying will cause communication to shut down, causing the result the Connector most fears. Connectors need to let children develop their own lives and be responsible for their own emotions. Teach your kids the skills they need to navigate their world with safety and confidence.
Part of being a parent is making peace with uncertainty and realizing we cannot control everything. But, it is vitally important that we teach our children the skills they need to navigate the world with safety and confidence. Keep in mind that gaining life experience is part of what will make children safer when they grow up and leave the nest. Young adults will be more competent and less naive if they have had practice learning safety skills and applying them to the real world. This does not have to be scary. Small steps toward independence can be combined with training on boundary-setting skills, and learning to ask for help when they need it. Amy Tiemann, Ph.D. is the author of "Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family" and founder of the popular online resource MojoMom.com. She collaborates with the contributors to the new book "Courageous Parents, Confident Kids," to lead the way to a new era of empowered parenting. Learn more and sign up now to receive a free download of "Courageous Parents, Confident Kids" by visiting www.mojomom.com.