For helicopter parents: How to learn to let go of your child

helicopter parents
Young family with their little son at home

We’ve heard it many times before: the term “helicopter parents”. We all immediately have a negative image in our heads and as parents, we definitely don’t want to be like that. Helicopter parents mean it only (too) well with their children. This article explains how you learn to let go and still live close to your children.

Parents wish their children only the best

What is best is very individual. And yet there are similarities: The best should extend to life as much as possible, not just to the moment. We all want our children to be happy and successful, to be independent and thrive in life, to find fulfillment in what they do, to develop their talents and use their potential… until the end of their days. That they can lead a good life in their own individual way. And helicopter parents usually want this very much!

Helicopter parents do not perceive their children’s individuality

And at the same time, this helicopter strategy means that you lose sight of the individuality of the children a little: You drive ahead (with the imaginary lawn mower), focus on the environment instead of on the child, and you can’t even go through the imaginary flight altitude recognize more of what the children actually need right now. Therefore, despite all efforts, it is often not as easy as hoped from these positions to give the children the support that they most urgently need individually and specifically.

Helicopter parents don’t realize when the child needs more air to breathe than warmth and closeness. You may have good vision yourself, but you don’t even know where the child is looking. In this way, they might clear the wrong path to the wrong destination. So it can happen that parents get lost and that the child remains basically helpless at its location.

Helicopter parents need to see their kids

If we really want our children to be able to build up a fulfilling and successful life, then in addition to “taking care of our children” we also need an additional strategy that allows us to recognize the child with its peculiarities and all its Embracing strengths and talents. A strategy that enables the child to dream their own dreams and set their own goals, so that they can go their own way with optimism and stay on the ball despite setbacks.

3 steps for helicopter parents to relax

So how can so-called helicopter parents “reduce their flight altitude”, recognize with more proximity what their child needs at the moment, and then choose what is really best for the child depending on the situation?

This requires three steps that can basically be helpful for all parents:

Step 1: Stand next to your child instead of in front of or above it so you can get even closer.
Helicopters hover over things and are therefore never really in touch with what they are observing with far-sightedness. If you come down in between and stand next to your child, you can get an insight into your child’s living environment in addition to an overview of the environment. This way you can see even better what your child needs in a specific situation.

Children often do not have the same perspective as you. It is therefore good that you bring your point of view to the table. And at the same time, children have their own perception of this situation. In order to bring your insights closer to the child, it is helpful if you know their perception exactly and can then weave your perspective into it like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Maybe you know it when you read advice books and always have the feeling that none of this works for you and your child. That is normal. You will not find exactly what is most important specifically for your child in any book or guide. Only you can read that in your child. It helps you to be close to your child and to take their perspective.

When does the child need protection and help?

Step 2: The proximity allows you to distinguish where your child needs protection and where help. 

the tasks of parents can be divided into “protecting” and “supporting”. It is of course important that you “protect” your child and put yourself IN FRONT OF your child when they are in such a risky situation that they cannot handle it themselves and could be seriously harmed.

Sometimes “snow shoveling” or “lawn mowing” can be very helpful. In all other situations, your primary responsibility is to stand SIDE your child, or maybe even behind it. In this way, you can let them try to solve the situation themselves, appropriate to their age. And because of the closeness you keep to the child, you can still quickly give helpful impulses or even switch to “protecting” and intervene.

When riding a bike, for example, you first put your child in the back seat to protect them in traffic. If it drives itself, you push it first and hold it. But at some point, you let go and run alongside, only supporting. Then it can follow you at some point, follow your example. And later you let it pull up, but always stay close on its heels so that you can intervene with support in an emergency. This is how it learns to make decisions for itself. And when you know it can judge traffic, you let it drive on its own. Depending on where your child is in their development, you protect or support them.

Helping people help themselves

Step 3: Train your child’s own “radar” so that they learn to recognize problems early and solve them themselves.
Sooner or later, all children find themselves in situations in which their parents are no longer present to “protect” them. In order to be well prepared for these situations, your child needs its own “radar”, so to speak, which gives it indications of when it could become dangerous instead of your parental care.

The best radar children have for this is their own feelings. Because we parents help our children early on to use their own feelings as a guide, we can support them significantly in perceiving tricky everyday situations as challenging at an early stage. If we are close to them and gently empathize with their perception, we can help them train this “radar” well.

Then we can accept their uncomfortable feelings and teach them that these are an indication that they need to take good care of themselves now. And that they can listen to themselves to explore what they need right now to improve the situation for themselves. Only when they have learned to recognize this will they be able to develop options for action themselves and select the most promising of them in order to master challenges.

Helicopter parents have to learn to let go

The third step in particular – “training the radar” – is often not that easy for us. Mainly because we haven’t learned it very well ourselves. Therefore, it can help to use this approach for yourself first – exactly for the challenge, we are discussing here: Doing the best for your child!

Questions to ask yourself before the helicopter takes off

  • What’s the worst that can happen? No danger to your child’s safety? Then no protection is necessary.
  • Is your child strong right now and ready to solve the situation on their own? Yes? Then leave it, watch, and stay close to lend a helping hand when your child asks.
  • Is the strategy your child has chosen working? Great – your child has learned something for life, gained self-confidence, and will come out of it stronger.
  • Doesn’t it work? Then help him to look for alternatives himself, to try again, and only take the lead in the very last step. And if you do, explain to him that it just needs a little more practice and that it will work better next time.
  • Small steps… Gives your child the chance to get a little bit closer to the solution themselves each time. Ask it which piece it can create itself.

What helicopter parents should practice

  1. Perceiving the feeling: What feeling do you have when you start to “helicopter”?
    Fear of danger threatening the child, uncertainty about which upbringing is best, fear of mistakes that question you as a mother/father, fear of failure as a mother/father, fear of failure and failure of the child… what exactly is it With you?
    Example: You yourself are not very confident in dealing with strangers and are afraid that your child will be bullied at school.
  2. Clarify causes: What is causing this feeling right now? What goal are you threatening not to achieve right now? Which of your wishes is life going against right now?
    Example: You want your child to be strong, do well in school, and make lots of friends.
  3. Consider alternative courses of action and select the most helpful: What can you do to achieve the best possible progress towards this goal?
    Here I have two examples for you: You accompany your child at every turn and pay attention, involve the teachers so that they can keep an eye on your child, and put other children in their place who are facing your child to behave inappropriately.
    You strengthen your child at home, perceive their feelings, and talk to them about them. If your child is also afraid of “bullying”, you will explore what it actually wants and you will give your child strategies on how to react in problematic situations.
    In this way, it becomes capable of acting itself and does not remain a “victim”. You make sure that your child has a safe haven at home, where they can always share their worries with you and recharge their batteries so that they can step out into the world with inner strength.

After reading the examples, think about it: Which alternative will help you more to achieve your goal of your child being strong? And which reactions of the environment towards your child will your behavior generate in each case? What does it learn from your behavior? What self-image do you convey to your child?