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Overcome Your Helicopter Parenting Impulses

When parents are overly involved, their kids may not develop the academic or emotional skills they need to succeed. We share advice from educators to avoid hovering too close at school.

October 12, 2021


There’s a simple reason why the term helicopter parenting has been around for decades: it’s hard not to hover. With extreme cases like the parents in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, it’s easy to tell ourselves that giving a little extra help on homework now and then isn’t that big of a deal.

But while going the extra mile for your child might feel good in the moment, it can have negative long-term consequences. Kids who depend on their parents to rescue them from difficult situations may find it harder to be responsible and to develop self-control. Their self-esteem can suffer and they may be more likely to burn out in school, which can contribute to anxiety, depression, or addiction.  

Set Limits Ahead of Time

It’s one thing to know that helicopter parenting is bad in principle, and it’s another to say no when opportunities to rescue your child arise. It’s a good idea to think about what you will or won’t do to help your child out in a bind before it happens. But as with many things in parenting, there are no hard and fast rules that work for every kid. 

Take into consideration the child’s age, maturity level, and what they are capable of doing, and adjust how much you help them as they grow older. Many parents offer more support to young children, especially as they adjust to a new routine at back-to-school time, and do less for their older children. It can be hard to know just how much help is the right amount to give your kids, but there is one clear sign. If your kids aren’t taking more responsibility for their academics and activities as they get older, you may be stepping in too much. 

Before you decide to go out of your way to help your child, think about what they may learn in the situation with and without your help. If you take time away from work to deliver forgotten soccer gear before practice starts, your child may get the message that they don’t need to be responsible for having all the things they need for the day. But if your child is stuck on the sidelines because of forgotten cleats for one practice, they may take responsibility for making sure it doesn’t happen again.

Helicopter Parenting and Homework

Helping your child too much with homework is another area that may make things easier today but harder in the long run. In most cases, the best approach to take is for you or your child to have a conversation with the teacher. If your child is struggling to master the material, resist the temptation to complete an assignment for them. Instead, coach your child to email the teacher or ask for help at school and consider sending the teacher an email yourself.

If your child is overloaded with assignments—a standard rule is no more than 10 minutes per grade level—consider talking with the teacher about your concerns. The teacher may have insights into where your child can improve their study skills, or may be able to provide more time in class to work on assignments.

If the problem is that your child doesn’t like the teacher’s style, you can help by:

  • Encouraging him to keep an open mind
  • Reminding her to talk to the teacher about any concerns
  • Helping him form a student study group

Look for Improvement, Not Perfection

Keep in mind that it may take time for kids to learn new expectations. Nobody’s perfect, and kids may need to have new rules repeated several times before they remember them. The most important thing is to see that your child is taking steps in the right direction.

If your child is struggling to meet new family expectations, it’s a good time to have a conversation. Ask them to think of ideas that could help them stay organized and top of assignments. They’ll be more likely to try a new idea if they had the opportunity to give input.

Empower Older Students

As your kids get older, empower them to make their own decisions and solve their own problems, but be there to offer help if they need it. Parents can play an important role by helping older students develop problem solving skills.

Livia McCoy, dean of student support for The Steward School in Richmond, Va., suggests these steps to help empower teenagers:

  • Help your child clearly define the problem.
  • Brainstorm more than one solution to the problem.
  • Talk about the pros and cons for each idea together.
  • Let your student use that information to make the best decision.

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