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Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting refers to parents who hover and always stay close to their children, ready to swoop in to direct, help or protect (usually before it is needed).

The Perils of Helicopter Parenting

For Children:

  • Never learns accountability/natural consequences
  • Develops a fear of failure
  • Lack of confidence
  • Codependency
  • Can trigger anxiety
  • Lack of resilience – can lead to problems in adulthood where feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, often resulting in depression
  • Potential traits of narcissism and entitlement (because of parents enabling everything)


For Parents:

  • Over-identification (blurring of boundaries – where parents want to enjoy childhood again through their kids, accomplishments become owned by parents rather than the child)
  • Role confusion – wants to be a friend and becomes poor disciplinarian – the child needs to learn natural consequences

Key Points:

  • Parents of toddlers might miss risks of helicopter parenting, as it is necessary to watch children closely at this age to keep them safe (unlike for older children/teenagers where helicopter tendencies are fairly obvious)
  • However, parents should supervise rather than over-restrict, and act as a ‘sidecar’ as opposed to a ‘helicopter’
  • Children need space to explore, and if watched from a distance, can learn space and freedom are welcoming and exciting and not to be feared
  • Toddlers should be allowed to choose their own activities, as children will select ones that are challenging within reason
  • They should be the director of their own play rather than the parent, without the parent dictating the flow of activities
  • When children play alone, they meet challenges and learn to solve problems which hones creativity skills in the process

Research on Helicopter Parenting

  • In a recent study that looked at children completing puzzles which reflected challenging and sometimes frustrating activities such as homework, parents of children with social anxiety touched the puzzles significantly more than other parents, even when the children did not seek their help. This could suggest that those ‘helicopter parents’ of socially anxious children may perceive challenges as more threatening than the child perceives them, and pass this on to their child
  • College students with helicopter parents tended to be less open to new ideas and actions, as well as more vulnerable, anxious and self-conscious compared to their counterparts with more distant parents

The Parent Centred Parenting approach

  • Having parents who set limits enables children to internalise their own moral compass, as does experiencing natural consequences
  • Parents need to provide this ‘consequences training’ in order for children to set limits for themselves
  • If you make room for mistakes, a child will be less likely to develop a fear of failure
  • Even if the result of an action is a partial failure, seeing something real accomplished builds confidence. This comes from making the effort, persevering, coping and seeing results
  • Children learn by trial and error and build self-esteem by learning to complete challenges on their own
  • It is necessary that they struggle in order to grow and learn. Learning to overcome obstacles builds resilience for later life
  • It is better for toddlers/kids if parents give them the freedom they need to develop physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively within limits determined by real needs for safety rather than a parent’s reactive fears
  • In turn, this will be beneficial for parents, as they will have more confidence in their child’s ability to cope and problem solve, and be less worried


  • If a child lacks confidence, they can be helped to become more independent by allowing them to tackle tasks and challenges on their own without intervention
  • If they fail, children should be encouraged to start again, which shows that their parent has faith in their abilities to succeed without their help

The concept of ‘good enough parenting’ addresses the ‘super mum’ and ‘perfect parent’ conundrum and tells parents that what works for their unique family situation, is enough! Good Enough Parenting (Donald Woods Winnicott)

Parents who loved and provided a stimulating environment, but also set boundaries and didn’t stress about doing enough, had children with the best outcomes.

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