Landing the Helicopter

Are you a helicopter parent? If you’re not sure, here’s a quick test:

  1. Do you check your child’s grade portal more than once a day?
  2. Do you lie awake nights worrying that if your child fails a class, his chances for success in life are over?
  3. Do you find that more than 50% of the conversations you have with your child involve her school performance?

If you answered YES to the above, it’s time to land the aircraft. I landed mine two years ago, and although it was a slow process, it felt GOOD!

I started off with good reasons for hovering. Younger Son was attention challenged and it took many years of patiently training his focus and organizational skills before he was capable of managing independently. Somewhere along the way, though, I got stuck in the notion that his grades were THE MOST IMPORTANT THING! Not that I would have admitted it. If you had asked me in 9th grade when he was hitting the wall in math whether his grades were what I valued most about him, I would have exclaimed, “Of course not!” But my actions said something else.

Sometime in his sophomore year, I realized that I was obsessing over grades and seriously inhibiting our relationship. My constant questions about this assignment and that grade and this project and how he did on that test were landing on him with so much negativity, it’s a wonder he didn’t shut down under the pressure! We had a conversation about me backing off so he could experience greater independence, set some parameters about what that would look like, and agreed to a weekly check-in on how our process was going. It was hard at first (some weeks, my backing-off rating was a thumbs down, accompanied by “the look”), but as my son pointed out, he was going to have to manage himself in just two more years and he needed to learn how to do that without my constant supervision.

I am a strong proponent of teaching children self-management skills, so first and foremost, I would encourage parents to be teaching those skills from a very young age.  But at some point, we need to step back and let our kids use those skills without our help. And fail sometimes. Failure is tough to experience (and hard to watch!) but it’s not the end of the world. It’s the new starting point, and an opportunity to learn how to do something better the next time. Too much hovering hinders the growth process, and results in young adults who can’t step out into the world with confidence in their own capability to manage challenges.

Landing my helicopter gave my son the freedom to make choices, experience the struggle when there was one, and then take satisfaction in HIS accomplishments. I would encourage fellow pilots to assess your child’s self-management skills and, as soon as possible, start the process of activating your landing gear!