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What Parents Must Know About the “Helicopter Parent Trap”

What Parents Must Know About the “Helicopter Parent Trap”

Parents often find themselves working overtime to figure out how to give their kids the tools they need to make healthy choices in life. And some of them think that by talking to their kids, reading books, or giving them positive role models, they’re going to be able to help their kids succeed. But the research shows that trying to solve problem behaviors in kids may lead to some unintended consequences in their development, and that can be a problem itself.

According to leading developmental researcher Frances Foulkes, who also worked at the U.S. Department of Education, education researchers have known about the consequences of the “helicopter parent” approach to parenting for decades. Her book, Inside the Helicopter Parent Trap: How to Leave Your Kids the Way You Found Them, documents how parents can be influenced by unguided parental expectations and an excessively in-the-moment, helicopter-parent style of parenting. She shows that all those talking, reading, and giving-out books only build parents’ excuses for ineffective behaviors and thereby keep kids trapped in emotional, physical, and cognitive patterns. Foulkes believes that parental helicoptering ultimately turns the child into a child with no sense of self–a sense of safety and security–and makes them cold, insensitive, and incapable of self-control.

The theory is that many parents believe that giving their kids “free rein” helps them succeed, either in school or in life. For instance, they may believe that by letting their kids run wild, the child will get smarter and stay up late watching videos or pretending to be a superhero. They don’t realize that it’s the child who is becoming less capable and disengaged with their surroundings. In fact, a child who is constantly given free rein to act out will become depressed, lonely, and angry at those around them. This is why Foulkes believes that it’s important for parents to know what they can do to help their children not get into trouble or avoid their problems because of situations that are out of their control.

One of the best ways parents can do this is to help them develop a sense of “mission.” Studies have shown that children who have a purpose, a reason for existing, and a sense of personal agency experience less anxiety and distress, improve their ability to connect with others, and achieve greater academic achievement.

The Children’s Place, the world’s largest family of specialty toy retailers, helps parents work with their kids to develop a sense of mission by offering a variety of ways to do so. Children’s Place has a variety of preschool, pre-K, and development classes tailored to parents and their children. Plus, there are several programs in the store that enable customers to engage in meaningful play, engage with other customers, and earn rewards.

Another key for parents to instill a sense of purpose is to teach their kids to think about themselves as individuals. Too often, children are told “it’s OK to make a mistake,” yet little does the child understand that the error of their ways should be internalized. Kids also need to learn that mistakes are a natural part of human learning. When this occurs, they do not need to jump in and fix the problem. Instead, they should allow time for themselves to mourn the problem and think through what they did wrong. This could take multiple days or even weeks.

Learning to accept mistakes could lead to kids learning to take responsibility for their own actions, even at a young age. Which brings us to our next point: parents should not try to solve their children’s problems for them. Despite many parents’ misguided beliefs, only experts can help a child learn and grow. Remember that real adults are able to make mistakes, make adjustments, and ultimately handle challenges by themselves.

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