Why always swooping in to help your child is never a good idea…
A while back, my husband was dropping our five-year-old at preschool. There were four boys kicking a soccer ball around. ‘Yay, I can play too,’ gasped our son.
‘No, you can’t! It’s just the four of us – you can’t play!’ chirped one of the boys. My hubby wasted no time. ‘Hey!’ he squawked at the tot-sized tyrant. ”My boy WILL play with you!’
He was sure this would get our son into the game. But all it did, was cause him to cling to his dad’s leg even harder!
Why didn’t it work?
In speaking to the boy on our son’s behalf, his dad had unwittingly communicated that he couldn’t deal with the situation himself and that he needed a dad to come to rescue him.
In ‘Parenting with Love’, authors Foster Cline and Jim Fay highlight various kinds of parenting styles and show how over-parenting ultimately undermines children’s potential.
There are two kinds of over-parenting:
1. Helicopter Parents hover over and then rescue their children whenever trouble arises. They’re always pulling their children out of jams at the very first sign of distress.
2. Turbo-Attack Helicopter Parents, in their zeal to protect their young, swoop down like Apache attack helicopters – blasting any person or problem that seems to be threatening their child’s well-being. Pity the teacher who tries to give constructive feedback to such a parent about their child!
Most caring, involved parents have swooped in from time to time – it’s natural, and indeed, necessary when our kids are young and truly need our help and intervention.
But all of us parents need to acknowledge that this is only a temporary mode of parenting – one that should be used less and less as our kids grow. Remember, our job as parents is not to prepare the road for our kid (smoothing out all the bumps), but rather, to prepare our kid for the road (bumps, potholes, unexpected hairpin bends, and all).
Whilst there is certainly a place for shielding our kids from danger and the unnecessarily bad, dark, and sad, let’s make sure we also equip them to navigate life in an imperfect world – providing ample opportunities for them to grow in grit, street smarts, and character – long before they step out on their own, without us by their side.
Richard Branson’s parents seemed to get this right. As a young teen, he was dropped off by his parents on the far side of town and instructed, ‘Make your way home, son. Work it out, make a plan, and look after yourself.’
As it turns out, Richard made his own way home, and then continued to make his own way—pioneering new avenues into the music, airline, fitness, and space industries!
So while almost every one of us will fly into ‘helicopter mode’ at some point, keep in mind that we ultimately want to move our kids from a state of dependence to independence.
It is precisely as the fledgling butterfly struggles to break from its cocoon that it builds the strength and wing power it needs to ascend to great heights once it finally gets out. ‘Mercifully’ meddling by cutting the cocoon open, will only lead to a butterfly that flops out and never is able to fly.
While its struggle will have come to a quick end, so will its future—its wings are now too weak to lift it off the ground.
It’s precisely because we want our kids to succeed in life that we must give them lots of chances to struggle along at times – to make decisions, face the consequences of their bad decisions, and work through solving their own challenges – without us always coming to the rescue.