I’ve seen a lot of discussion about “helicopter parenting” vs. “free range parenting”. Almost anyone will agree that children are overprotected in some way today. Most of us will admit that our children’s childhoods are, at the very least, different from our own. Some of those changes are probably for the better, but others are obviously (or maybe not so obviously) not.
What can we do if we agree that “helicopter parenting” is a problem but we’re not quite ready to wear the “100% Free Range” label?
- Leave the room where your child is playing. Don’t announce you’re leaving. Just leave. Think this sounds incredibly basic? I’ve actually heard parents ask their children before they will leave them alone in a room in their own house. It’s real, folks.
- Have more than one child, and more than two if possible. If that’s not possible, try to live in a neighborhood with lots of kids or near your own family (cousins!).
- Send your children outside every day for even a few minutes alone. Lengthen this time with age and ability. Make the boundaries clear and enforce them, but otherwise let them invent their own play.
- Turn off the news. Limit your alternative news sources, too. The 24-hour news cycle is no one’s friend. They have to have things to report and sad / tragic stories about children usually mean more viewers. But think logically: the reason these stories are NEWS is because they are rare. No one reports, “Nothing bad happened today at your child’s school and everyone got home safely.”
- Organize your home so that children’s things are accessible. Unbreakable dishes should be in a low cabinet or drawer so that the child can fix his / her own drinks and snacks as soon as possible. Make sure the child can put his / her backpack and coat away easily too.
- Teach your children about proper use of sunscreen, bug spray, soap and water, and bandages. Teach them basic first aid or have them take an age appropriate class or first aid course (including CPR). Sign them up for swimming lessons. Knowledge is power, especially in practical applications.
- Turn off screens. Sure, computer time can be useful or part of school time. Watching a video isn’t wrong. But kids also need REAL things. They need to touch, smell, feel, taste, etc. Let them use their senses. They need to test their limits. Let them experience some cause and effect.
- Give them useful work – then leave them to do it. Don’t remake the bed or re-clean the mirror. If the job isn’t done to your satisfaction, tell them, show them, and help them fix it so that the next time they’ll know. Then move on. (And moms, this is not boot camp. You needn’t bounce quarters off of beds. Give each child a duvet or quilt and cut down on the amount of covers they have to fiddle with. You’ll both be happier.)
- Trust your husband. I’m going to paint with a broad brush here, but in my experience more moms tend to be helicopter parents than dads. Listen to your husband, or whichever parent tends to have the “hands off” or “let’s wait and see” approach. This strategy works quite often.
- Make friends with other non-hovering parents. Support each other. Standing against the helicoptering hordes can be lonely, so treasure the fellow parents who stand with you.
A personal anecdote: I was watching my kids play on the playground. Another family we know happened to be there. One of my daughters got stuck climbing up a climbing wall. She called for me with that mild note of panic, “MOM!” I looked up from my bench.
“You can do it!” I called to her. The parent I knew started hurrying over to my child. I never got up. By the time my friend made it to where my daughter had been she had pulled herself up off the tricky bit and moved on.
Am I saying to sit and stare at your phone while your kids play? Well, no, not the WHOLE time. But I am saying that we can probably check out text messages every once in awhile without ill effect to our children. (And yes, I have run on occasion to rescue a child. That’s the thing, though: I KNEW my child and whether this was an emergency or not.)
Giving a child a push on a swing is a good thing. Pushing our six year old on the swing the entire time she’s swinging is not. Six year olds are perfectly capable of pumping their legs.
Our children need us to land those helicopters, fellow parents.
(If you’d like to read more from the person who inspired the concept of “Free Range Parenting”, see Lenore Skenazy’s Free Range Kids.)