Are you a helicopter parent?

Back off! The constant hovering could be detrimental to your child’s growth

One can only imagine the peak that parental obsession reaches when the child falls sick. With both parents often working, they make sure that the child’s time during the day is filled choc-a-bloc with activities. But if the child were to fall sick, then schedules go for a toss. Invariably one of the parents has to stay back home to tend to the child. As a result, parents begin to put a lot of pressure on themselves and their doctors, and they want the child to get well at the earliest.

Parents are known to tell the child’s doctor, “Somehow see that he is fine by tomorrow. Do whatever tests are required, give strong medicines, antibiotics or injections, but he should be well soon, so that he can resume his schooling and other activities.” Even we as doctors explain to the parents that every disease, with or without treatment, has a particular time span, and that every medicine has side-effects, parents still stick to their stand. Some paranoid parents decide on their own what blood tests are required for their child, carry them out and meet the doctor armed with the reports.

Yet another area where parents have become obsessed, concerns the schooling and education of the child. They want to ensure that their child ranks first in every examination, whether it be kindergarten, or nursery. Many parents panic if the child falls sick before an examination, and often rush to the doctor, imploring him to bring the child back to normal health, before the exams. It often comes as a surprise to many child specialists to know that the examinations in question are those of kindergarten. The academic pressures are tremendous and start at the young age of three or four. Also, there is pressure on the parents to send the child to a play school when he is just a year old, just to ensure that he does not lag behind other kids. When the child is in class 10th or 12th, many parents take leave from their work, to be home with the child 24×7 and ensure that he studies. They are constantly breathing down their children’s neck, forcing them to work harder. And after putting in so much effort, their expectations reach sky high. In such cases, God forbid, if the child performs badly in the exam, he or she is under severe stress and we turn into mere spectators to more stress related behaviour, like running away from home, taking to drugs and alcohol and even suicides.

Parental obsession is not just restricted to these areas, but extends to almost all areas of a child’s life. The danger of over-parenting any child is that such a child becomes overly dependent on his parents, for almost every thing, no matter how big or small.

The role of an ideal parent, is to help the child find his potential, by setting broad boundaries to prevent him from getting hurt, physically and emotionally. But crushing and smothering the child with attention often makes the child stressed out and emotionally dependent on the parents. In later life, when the child has to live away from his parents, for education or a job in a different city, s/he may lack the coping abilities. Over attachment with parents also prevents the child from easily forming relationships with his friends and peers, in some cases, even with their spouses. Too much focus on the child and too many expectations also puts tremendous amount of stress on the child to perform, failing which the child has to resort to a whole lot of escape measures, as he or she is unable to face the parent. Parents unknowingly are often leading their children down the wrong path and are impoverishing them, instead of empowering them.

The key is in balance

are-you-a-helicopter-parent-2-300x365Parents need to be neither too authoritative and obsessive, nor negligent with their children. Giving the child enough freedom and space while keeping an eye on him is what is required. They need to understand his strengths and weaknesses.

More than anything, parents have to keep communicating honestly to the child and keep reassuring him that irrespective of what he does or says, his parents will always love him and be there for him. This deep feeling of love and trust is what will go a long way in helping the child develop self esteem and self-worth.

Children yearn for appreciation from their parents, and this is very important for the

child’s growth. Parents instinctively criticise their children—because they want them to do better—but are not as lavish in their praise. Criticism should be kept to a minimum, [only when needed] and parents should help children find solutions rather than constantly shouting at them to improve. Every child has only a limited potential and capacity and it is often pointless to force them.

It is natural that every parent will worry and fear for the wellbeing and future of their children. But acting out of too much fear and insecurity will not bring out desired results. We need to take a rational view of things, and act out of awareness, love and maturity rather than the fear that something might happen to our child, or that she or he will grow up into an incapable adult. The more a child sees us stressed out and worried, the more s/he will get stressed. And above all, remember that children come with their own destiny and our job is only to be good guides and mentors.

This was first published in the January 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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P V Vaidyanathan
Dr P V Vaidyanathan, MD, DCH, is a Mumbai-based paediatrician in private practice, hobbyist writer, and author of a book on childhood stress management.


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