Helicopter Parents – Are You Stressing Out Your Child?

kolari thumbnail[Originally posted at Just the Facts, Baby]

Over the last 15 to 20 years, we have moved from a parent-centered culture to a child-centered culture. We are better at understanding our children, better at empathizing and better at supporting and helping children when they are in need. Children are more protected and enjoy more emotional and physical safety than ever before and as a culture we care more about their feelings and their dignity.

There is a downside, though, and things may have swung a little too far. Many well-meaning parents work too hard to smooth the road for their children. Removing obstacles and bumps may make it easier for us to bear our children’s pain and emotional discomfort, but our children don’t seem to be better off for it. According to clinical psychologists Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen, “We’re seeing high rates of anxiety and depression. The average college student right now is as anxious as the average psychiatric patient was 50 years ago.”

As a child and family therapist, I see far more anxiety amongst the children I work with than I did years ago. I also see children having more difficulties with emotional regulation, anger and impulse control. If you smooth every bump and remove every obstacle in their way, children will not develop the emotional circuitry to manage bumps when they happen. They will fall apart and overreact because they do not have a repertoire of experiences that they can review and say, “Oh yeah, I handled that and I was ok so I can get through this.” If we do not trust them to learn for themselves, make mistakes and experience difficulties, they can’t build that important repertoire. The irony is that the more we try to make life easier for them, the more upset and anxious they seem to become.

It is hard to watch your child cry when you have to say “no” to something, or set a limit. But if you think it’s tough with a two- or four-year-old, think about how it will look when they are 14 or 16 years old. The truth is it will never be easier than it is right now to change and correct behaviors.

Staying neutral, being loving and predictable while setting fair and reasonable limits is the greatest gift you can give your child. It will help them become capable, resilient and secure. Adolescence is around the corner. It may seem like you have a lifetime with your children but they really do grow up quickly. Support them. Guide them. And, love them well. Be empathic and fair, but don’t be afraid to set limits. Let them experience some disappointment and give them messages of competence that help them see that they can, and will, get over it and be okay. Help them to be accountable for their mistakes and behaviors. They will be better prepared for life and a whole lot happier.

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Please remember that the advice given on this blog is not meant to replace medical advice or the direct advice of a mental health care professional.
"Connected Parenting advises us not just how to parent, but—far more important—who to be as parents. The therapeutic methods suggested by Jennifer Kolari are based not on simple-minded behavioural solutions, but on building warm, nurturing relationships with our children, with insight and compassion not only for their little flaws, but also for our own larger ones."
—Gabor Maté, M.D.

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