The Difference Between "Helicopter Parenting" & Attachment Parenting

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

There has been much media coverage lately about helicopter parenting and its effect on the development of our children. The CBC aired a great documentary a few weeks ago called “Hyper Parents and Coddled Kids.” It revealed how a generation of kids parented this way are faring—and it’s not well.

One might think kids who have been protected, chauffeured, tutored and celebrated more than any generation before would be confident, secure and happy. What research shows, however, is that they are anxious, stressed out, and more emotionally fragile than any generation before them. I would go so far as to call it “tip toe parenting” with many parents worried about upsetting their kids and going to great lengths to work around their children’s moods and going out of their way to accommodate their children needs and wishes. This has left many parents afraid of their child’s next meltdown and utterly exhausted.

So what do we do? How can we tell the difference between helicopter parenting and strong healthy attachment? We don’t want to go backwards to a time when kids were seen and not heard, but what’s happening now isn’t really working for parents, or for kids. We have to find a way, as parents, to balance attachment and nurturing with limit setting and exposure to natural consequences. In our well-meaning attempts to give our children positive experiences and in our striving for fairness, we have missed out on the value of a little adversity. Life is so good for many children in our part of the world that they are losing the gift of perspective.

The brain organizes our experiences often in terms of good and bad. If all experiences are positive, then the less positive ones begin to feel negative–it’s all relative. We want our children to be happy and successful, but being overly protective can give children a false sense of reality and may hinder their achievements later in life. They begin to lack the emotional hardware to handle adversity and may become anxious, overwhelmed and struggle to cope with their emotions.

We don’t need to go the other way and create negative situations for our children so they can toughen up, nor do we want to remove our empathy and support, but we do want to give them messages of competence and let them know they can, and will, get through negative experiences. Negative experiences are inevitable and no matter how hard we try to shield our children from them, we can’t. It’s much better to teach them how to handle these experiences and how to learn from them.

Constantly advocating for our children every time there is trouble, running to school with forgotten gym clothes or lunches, staying up late at night helping kids finish assignments in the long run is not helpful at all. We must let children try, fail, and then cope with the natural consequences of their failures. Listening, being empathic and helping children understand and learn from these experiences is vital, so is giving them the message that you believe they will be okay. When we enable children to fully experience the winning and the losing sides of life, we give them the gift of balance that will last a lifetime.

Here are some tips to help you with this balancing act.

1. Love them well

Strong family connections, with tons of unconditional love and consistent nurturing, will create positive attitudes and resilience. Listen to their feelings and empathize and problem-solve with them, then let them know that you believe they can get through any negative experiences.

2. Show yourself and encourage emotional ownership

Let your child see that you also make mistakes and that you feel sad or frustrated sometimes. He will connect with you and recognize his own power to overcome adversity.

3. Praise effort, not results

Compliment your child on her efforts and encourage her to measure herself against her own achievements.

4. Don’t be a fixer: allow mistakes

If your child is upset or angry, do not rush to fix the situation. Listen as he expresses his feelings and then calmly demonstrate that it’s okay to feel that way sometimes. Then you can work on problem-solving. If your child procrastinates and leaves an assignment to the last minute and loses marks for lateness, do not interfere. The negative result is a natural consequence of his choices, and will help him concretely understand cause and effect.

5. Stay neutral and avoid punishment

When your child does something wrong, make sure you listen to her point of view before you discipline–then choose natural consequences. Yelling and punishing will lead the child to focus more on your behavior than her own.

* Other posts about Helicopter Parenting:
Helicopter Parents – Are You Stressing Out Your Child
CBC Explores “Helicopter” Parenting

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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.
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