Helicopter parenting: The hidden load of a hovering parent

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Updated on Jan 21, 2024 · 7 mins read
Helicopter parenting: The hidden load of a hovering parent

Children by nature are curious and unaware of the dangers of the world. If you worry about your five-year-old accidentally running into a metal bar at the playground and risking a concussion, well, then you are just a regular parent. Playground injuries are common so naturally, we tend to hover and watch over our toddlers and preschoolers to make sure they don’t do anything naive like eat a caterpillar because someone dared them to or just because they were curious. As toddlers turn into tweens, we parent them to make sure they finish their meals, complete their homework, and don’t get into trouble. But where do we draw the line when deciding on what and how to do things? And how do we know when we have crossed over from concerned parent to helicopter mum? Are there any negative parenting effects of being a hovering parent? Is it harmful to the child’s development and most importantly, how do you know when to step back and let them deal? Well, we deep dive into the subject, and here’s what you need to know about hovering parents—and how not to be one.

What is hovering parenting?

Hovering parenting, also known as “helicopter parenting,” is a style of parenting in which parents are overly involved in their children’s lives, to the extent that they “hover” around them like a helicopter.

(It’s a bit obvious if you think about it because you know ‘helicopter, hover’ Get it?)

Anyway, so this type of parenting is characterised by over-protectiveness, over-involvement, and a lack of freedom for children to experience independence and autonomy. The result is that a child with a hovering parent can feel like they are constantly being monitored and might not be able to develop life skills and resilience.

Hovering may appear different for different ages: For example, it might be good for your toddler if you swoop in and kiss his boo-boo when they hurt themself on the slide. However, the same cannot be said for your five-year-old.

If its just a small slip of the foot, and your child is safe, don’t rush to pick them up. Observe your child and see if they can brush the dirt off their shorts and are ready to pick themselves up, both literally and metaphorically.

Of course, if the fall is something more serious, you run to make sure your kid is okay.

Does hovering matter?

Hovering over children can matter and can have negative impacts on their development. This type of parenting can lead to decreased independence, decreased resilience, and difficulty forming healthy relationships. It can also contribute to increased stress levels and lower self-esteem for children.

A more balanced approach to parenting, which strikes a balance between providing support and promoting independence, is generally considered more beneficial for a child’s growth and development

What effect does helicopter parenting have on a child?

While helicopter parenting has its cons, it also has its pros. And these may largely depend on the extent a parent goes to ‘help or assist’ their child.

Yes, there are also levels of hovering and while one parent may be on the edge of hovering just to make sure their kid gets into college, another may be determined to hover so they can have control over every aspect of their child’s life – from their choice in friends to talking to counsellors on their child’s behalf.

That extreme level of control over the child’s life decisions can lead to problems like stress, depression, and anxiety.

Here are some of the pros and cons of hovering over your child:

Pros of helicopter parenting:

  • Increased safety: Children of helicopter parents are often protected from dangerous situations and potential harm. The chances of them swallowing dangerous substances are even lower.
  • Higher self-esteem: Children may feel valued and important, which can lead to higher self-esteem.
  • Better academic performance: Helicopter parents may help their children with homework and push them to excel academically.

Cons of helicopter parenting:

  • Lack of independence: Children may struggle to make decisions and solve problems on their own, leading to a lack of independence. As most of their choices have been made for them, they do not trust their ability to do the right thing and have a greater fear of failing and making mistakes.
  • Decreased resilience: Children may not learn how to cope with failure and setbacks, making them less resilient.
  • High-stress levels: The constant pressure to succeed can lead to high levels of stress for children.
  • Difficulty forming relationships: Children may have difficulty forming healthy relationships with peers and partners due to a lack of independence.

Are you a hovering parent?

Let’s suppose one of your kids had to make a paper mache bowl for their school project. You are excited to help out, you wish for their bowl to be perfect. No cracks, no rough edges.

But your kid wants to do it by themself and just won’t let you ‘help.’
But you decide to anyway because you know how to do it perfectly or ‘better.’
Congratulations! You are a hovering parent.

And if you only decided to ‘fix’ the project after they went to bed or ‘took over to make it better’ you, yet again, fall in the category of a lawnmower parent.

Why do I have this need to hover?

It can be agonising watching our kids struggle to complete simple tasks like cutting neat circles with a pair of safety scissors. And competitive parents tend to take over because they see their child’s success as an extension of their success.

Other reasons why parents may hover over their children include fear of harm or failure, a desire to protect their children, a sense of obligation to ensure their children’s success, and a lack of trust in their children’s ability to handle challenges and make decisions.

Some parents may also hover as a result of their own experiences growing up, such as feeling unsupported or neglected as children themselves. Additionally, societal pressure to ensure children succeed can also play a role in driving parents to hover.

All these reasons lead to hyper-involvement in a child’s life with parents monitoring their every move, action, and decision, ridding them of their autonomy.

Stop hovering and step back – here’s what you can do instead:

This practice of hovering can quickly turn into a high-speed police chase with an offspring who is determined to escape from your disapproving looks. In other cases, hovering has also led kids to become adults who were overly dependent on their parents.

Here are some ways you can help but not hover:

First, and foremost, you have to tell yourself that your child will make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of learning and the only way we grow. And when they do fail a test or lose a game, provide support and encouragement instead of telling them that they were at fault.

Secondly, teach them to take responsibility. For example, if you have to remind your third grader to complete their homework or take care of a school project every day, they will never learn to be independent. Allow children to make decisions and handle problems on their own.

Do not try and protect your child from heartbreak and failure. Instead, teach them to feel and express their emotions. Similarly, foster resilience by letting your child experience failure and setbacks, and help them develop coping skills.

Provide a safe space for children to discuss their emotions, expectations, and behaviors. Be open to communication and suggestions, when and if asked for, rather than jumping to provide actions for children to follow.

While their hearts may be in the right place, lawnmowers or helicopters, and even snowplow parents can do more harm than good to their kids.

The college admission scandal is the perfect example of this: Lori Loughlin’s effort to illegally get her daughter Olivia into USC was Lori’s desperate attempt to help her daughter succeed in life. Instead, it led to Olivia losing major brand partnerships.

Research also shows that college students with controlling ‘hands-on’ mums and dads had higher levels of stress, and are likely to be depressed and reported being dissatisfied with their parents.

So if your middle school child has gone to bed and you have ‘fix paper mache project’ listed next on your to-do list, maybe it’s a sign you need to step back and just appreciate the effort your child put in.

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