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Avoiding 'Helicopter Parenting': Managing impact of parental anxiety on child’s independence

While helicopter parenting stems from genuine concern for the child's well-being, it typically results in a child being unable to develop needed skills
Dr. Victoria Ewen, Clinical Psychologist in Supervised Practice

If you haven’t heard the term “helicopter parent” before, it typically refers to a parent who is constantly hovering over their child, aiming to keep them safe. Some signs of helicopter parenting include:

  • Overly restricting their child’s activities, like forbidding sleepovers when their friends are allowed.
  • Doing too many things for their child that they can do themselves, such as picking up their clothes.
  • Shielding their child from challenging situations or difficult feelings, like mediating disagreements with friends, or giving them a treat to prevent them from feeling sad.

This parenting style typically involves excessive worry. Specifically, an unhelpful thinking style called “catastrophizing”, which involves assuming the worst will happen or exaggerating the severity of situations. For example, thinking “If I don’t help my child with their homework, they will never succeed in life” or “If I don’t prevent my child from going out with their friends, they won’t be safe”.

And while helicopter parenting stems from genuine concern for the child's well-being, it typically results in a child being unable to develop needed skills. This is because when children are restricted or discouraged from engaging in new and difficult things, they never learn effective coping and problem-solving skills. Ultimately, this limits their ability to be independent throughout their life.

If you find yourself worrying excessively about your child's well-being and engaging in the behaviours mentioned above, try the following:

  1. Consider whether giving your attention to the worry ensures your child's safety while promoting their skill development. If not, attempt to “unhook” from the thought. Label it as just a thought, thank your brain for trying to be helpful, and let the thought fade into the background.
  2. If you are experiencing difficult feelings about allowing your child more freedom, try to sit with that discomfort and give it space without resisting it or acting on it unless there is compelling reason to do so.
  3. Consistently redirect your focus to the present moment, cherishing your time with your child rather than dwelling on worrisome thoughts and difficult feelings. 

These strategies can help reduce the impact of parental anxiety, ensuring that you support your child in developing their independence and building a fulfilling life.

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