Recently I had the idea of trying a new type of blog post. I invited two fellow blogger-teacher-Mums, Kate from Picklebums (based in Victoria) and Cath from SquiggleMum (based in Queensland), to join me for an online ‘chat’ discussing a topic that is quite hot right now, that of ‘helicopter parenting’ or ‘overparenting.’
Wikipedia defines a Helicopter parent as a colloquial, early 21st-century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions…Helicopters parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not…Parents try to resolve their child’s problems, and try to stop them coming to harm by keeping them out of dangerous situations.
So here is what three blogger-teacher-mums had to say (it’s a long conversation but there are some great tips so stick with it!);
Cath: So first up, the phrase “helicopter parent” has been used a lot of late. What do we actually think that means?
Kate: I initially thought the term ‘helicopter parenting’ just meant over-protective in a hovering sort of way, but I can see that it also refers to the sort of thing Christie is talking about… getting over involved in things like this. It also seems to take into account parents who try to ‘hot house’ their children – use flash cards with babies, schedule a million extra activities for preschoolers, etc. So I think it covers a lot of ground and like everything to do with parenting there is no clear cut right and wrong on this.
Christie: I take it to mean parents stepping in to fight their child’s battles for them – in the playground, at school, in the community. Reducing their child’s capacity for independence and resilience.
Cath: I think that to some degree we are required to be helicopter parents initially when our little ones are little. As they grow, we should back off little by little.
Kate: I agree entirely, Catherine.
Cath: I always think of helicopter parents as those who haven’t backed off enough for the stage of independence their child is at.
Christie: That is a good definition
Kate: I think young children (under 7 year olds) are still learning how the social world works and how to behave socially and they need caring adults to be there to help guide them.
Cath: Yes, that’s what I think too. As a grade one teacher I understood parents wanting to talk to me about how to handle social challenges with their kids. I don’t think that’s being overly involved… though it does depend a little on how the parent approaches things!
Kate: And it depends on the child too
Christie: But there is a difference between a parent wanting advice and wanting the teacher to find the solution for them. Also, how are parents expected to know what an appropriate level of independence is for their child?
Kate: That’s a really good question….
Cath: That’s a good question, and I think that’s part of the reason the whole helicopter thing is an issue.
Kate: I tend to think that our society as a whole expects children to be independent at an earlier age than they are actually ready for or cognitively capable of.
Christie: Though I think that even toddlers can assume responsibility for some tasks.
Christie: I remember repeatedly telling parents in my child care centre that 4 and 5 year olds can (and should) carry their own backpacks. It is about finding achievable tasks and consistently expecting children to be responsible for them.
Cath: Yes, yes, yes. At grade one level I asked parents to let kids put their own bag and hat away, and be responsible for their own readers. It’s all about letting go, little by little.
Kate: I think it is about knowing your child, knowing what is appropriate for them and allowing them to be individuals.
Cath: So is the issue some parents not “knowing” their child?
Kate: Or is it a society, peer pressure type of thing? Parents thinking this is what they ‘should’ be doing?
Cath: Or is it just getting harder for parents to let go?
Christie: I think its about parents not knowing what is an acceptable level of responsibility at any given age, and about often being busy so its easier to do things themselves than taking the extra time to let the child do it.
Kate: As parents we are bombarded by experts telling us that we should be doing x and our child should be doing y and so many scary statistics. I think we forget that we know our child better than any expert or statistic.
Christie: That is true.
Cath: I always said to parents at the start of each school year, “You are the expert on your child…” I think more parents need to hear that.
Kate: Do you think they believe that? Truly?
Christie: No, I think they look to the teacher as being the expert.
Kate: Or books or a TV show. Don’t get me wrong, totally nothing wrong with asking for advice and getting information, in fact the more the better I think.
Christie: I agree, the more information, the more likely you are to see that there isn’t one way but in fact, many ways to parent.
What about over parenting when it comes to ‘risk’?
Cath: This is an area I’ve probably had more to do with as a mum than as a teacher.
Kate: Socially, I think children need more support (not stepping in and doing for them but help to find the right way to do for themselves) than we often give, but in terms of allowing children to take risks, I think we often over step the mark there.
Cath: Most first time mums (me included) helicopter a little more than we ever thought we would!
Kate: As an early childhood teacher you are forced to look at risk constantly. Child care centres are regulated so that no child is ever unsupervised and so that as much risk as possible is eliminated, it probably has to be that way in a children’s service setting.
Christie: I do too, Cath, and I cannot understand how we are so adverse to letting our children do what we did as children? I walked to school, I climbed (and fell out of) trees, I rode my bike in the street.
Cath: I have relaxed more with my second child but I find it hard to find a balance between my teacher training (eagle eyes on playground duty) and my desire to let my kids learn by exploring, falling, and getting up again.
Kate: I am a worrier so I am prone to over thinking the risks but I try really hard to realise that and step back from it. I often say, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’
Cath: Yes, I have to make that conscious decision too, Kate.
Kate: I think it’s natural that parents are fearful for their children… if your biggest fear as a parent wasn’t the loss of your child you’d wouldn’t be a good parent …but not letting that get the better of you is important.
Cath: That is an excellent point, Kate. And I think that’s why mums are more often guilty of over parenting than dads.
Christie: It is important to realise that children cannot learn to recognise risky and unsafe situations without some experience of ‘danger.’
Cath: That’s true Christie. Until you fall off a low branch, you won’t know that falling off a high one will really hurt!
Christie: And ‘danger signs’ of butterflies in the stomach and a beating heart are important for children to learn as they apply to so many situations.
Kate: Yes that is so true…. I’ve recently been talking with my fearful girl about how fear is not all bad, that it is telling us something important.
Kate: For me, I try to deal with my fears by either talking it through with myself – what’s the worst that could happen and how would I handle it, or by allowing risks within limits.
Cath: I think I deal with it by establishing some boundaries before giving my child freedom.
Christie: I try and deal with it by stepping back and taking an extra second before I step in or take control of the situation.
Kate: I tell myself not to go over the top and I make sure the kids always wear boots outside so I don’t go insane worrying about snakes! We all meet in the middle.
Cath: Yes, that’s the kind of thing I mean.
Christie: Or by giving a verbal signal to Immy to remind her of her limitations.
Cath: You know when I find myself hovering the most? At playgrounds. Especially busy ones with lots of kids and lots of mums around.
Kate: I usually hover at playgrounds for social reasons rather than physical risk reasons.
Cath: I’m not quite sure why I hover… a mix of reasons I think.
Kate: I feel confident that my kids all know their physical limits better than I do, even the small one who tries to follow his big sisters will stop when he realises he is high enough.
Cath: LOL Kate… mine is more likely to climb to the moon and not realise how high she is!
Kate: My small one climbs like a monkey but he’s very good at it.. and so far only one set of stitches and that was from falling off a low chair!
Christie: How do you deal with other parents who don’t step in, especially if their child is being a bit rough?
Cath: I encourage my own child to respond with, “Please don’t do x… I don’t like it.”
Kate: I feel less confident that my kids can confidently deal with social situations, especially with strangers, a) because the small one is 2 and has no clue about that and b) because my girls struggle with those things. So it comes back to knowing your kids, I think. I do the same, Cath, if my children need me to, I’ll give them the words to use to make sure their feelings are known.
Christie: As a teacher of 2-5 year olds I always taught the children to say “Stop” in a loud voice, to empower them and the loud voice helps to attract adult attention (so the adult can come and help the children resolve the situation). Most two year olds can say “Stop.”
Kate: We use the same phrase, ‘Stop – I don’t like that’
Christie: And then obviously older children can say, “Stop, I don’t like it when you …” and give more of an explanation.
Cath: I think right there we are preparing ourselves, and our kids, to move away from us little by little.
Christie: It is about equipping them so that we feel we can step away.
Kate: You know… I’m not sure a parent ever truly ‘steps away’… I believe a child, even as an adult, does well with a very strong sense of family connection…. so I see it more of a nice long stretchy rope… LOL
Cath: One of the best things for me, when I have been holding my kids a little too tightly, has been to spend time with other mums a little further along the road.
Christie: That’s a good tip, Cath.
Kate: That’s a fab tip for all kind of parenting worries. I’m doing a lot of that at the moment regarding our impending school start.
Christie: It’s probably also why parenting blogs are becoming so popular! LOL!
Kate: And I did a lot of it in the early days with my girls… I just needed to know we’d all survive.
Christie: So any final tips for helping parents find the balance between parenting and helicopter parenting? Take an extra second before rushing in.
Kate: Breathe and know it’ll probably be ok.
Christie: Think about how you can help your child learn from a situation they (or you) are unhappy about.
Kate: Read the free range kids blog.
Christie: Know that it is important for children to learn to recognise physical ‘danger signs’ such as butterflies in the tummy.
Cath: I think we need to remember that we are not really raising children, we are raising them to be independent adults – eventually.
So what are your thoughts? Do you ‘hover’ more than you thought you would? (I certainly do!) What are your tips for stepping back and letting go? Oh, and how do you like the chat post format? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.