Carolyn Hax: How to avoid helicopter parenting

Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 24, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I am pregnant with my first child and my husband and I are VERY excited. Can you suggest any child-rearing books to help us be low-key parents while not letting our kid run wild? We’re looking to go the anti-helicopter route while still managing to have a self-sufficient, courteous, reasonably well-behaved child (to the extent that we can control such things).

Also, could you remind me of the name of the book you’ve recommended in the past that discusses why kids lie and how hard work should be praised, rather than brilliance? Thanks!

No Helicopters


The book is “NurtureShock,” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It’ll help on your other counts, too.

Also, as you’ll find out soon, the helicopter- and the kid-run-wild problems are two separate things.

Helicoptering is when you prevent your child’s every fall, literally and figuratively. It’s when you catch them mid-stumble even when they’re headed for nothing more serious than a brush with the nearby floor. It’s when you run to them panic-stricken every time they cry, and keep them off anything that might skin knees or break arms. It’s when you fight their battles for them, and when you browbeat them onto the path to excellence at whatever key excellence-indicator you choose for them, be it reading or a musical instrument or sport or foreign language.

A helicopter parent will tell you it’s about protecting the kid, but it’s really about protecting the parent from the harrowing business of letting go.

The “anti-helicopter parent” presumably also wants a kid to be successful, of course — but allows a little more room for error. Kids need to be taught the age-appropriate basics of whatever new thing they take on — walking, bikes, crossing streets, etc. — and then, when both you and kid are confident of kid’s ability, you start letting go in age-appropriate increments.

What are those? Well, depends. Using your judgment, your kids’ abilities and a general sense of child-development milestones will get you in the ballpark.

The run-wild thing is about civilizing your kid — when hovering is necessary and good. In a restaurant, for example, you watch your kids closely, correct them gently and firmly, and remove them when they won’t stop screaming/throwing food/etc. ... a full list of “don’ts” is on view at most family restaurants.

Civilizing means you never, ever hand your kid a cookie when s/he says, “Give me a cookie,” even when refusing means a tantrum. Ever hear kids talk to their parents like that? It curdles air. It’s also completely preventable by setting the bar as soon as they’re old enough to say “peash” and “shankoo.” Again, that’s not helicoptering, that’s being a parent.

Re: Helicopter Parents:

I was a chronically ill child with a smothering mother. I’m now 54, a homeowner, with a national reputation in my field. My mother still asks, in twice-weekly calls, if I feel okay. She panics if she does not hear from me every three days.

Please don’t hover over your kids. It will only destroy any meaningful relationship you might have in the future. I have spent my adult life trying to escape my mother.

Anonymous

Nothing like an excellent writer with an excellent point. Thank you.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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