Support, Don’t Hover, to Raise Independent Kids

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Sometimes it feels like parenting is a no-win situation these days. If you stick too close, you’re a helicopter. If you hang too far back, you’re not engaged. If you let your kids ride their bikes alone, you might even be reported for neglect. Okay, maybe that last one is a little bit extreme, but you get the point.

Parents are constantly under a microscope today. Parents read articles and books on parenting to gather information and perhaps solve a few parenting mysteries (we all have them from time to time). That’s a good thing. The flip side is that input is everywhere…even when you’re not looking for it. That’s not such a good thing. That can damage the self-esteem of the parent. That can cause parents to question their instincts. That can cause arguments and frustration.

New research, for instance, shows that “helicopter parenting” is detrimental to kids no matter how loving the parents are. This particular study shows that children raised by controlling parents are actually less engaged in the classroom. While the researchers thought they might find that love and support neutralized the controlling behavior, they didn’t.

The quick takeaway, of course, is that helicopter parenting is no good. But what does that actually mean?

For purposes of the study, the researchers defined “helicopter parenting” as engaging in over-involved habits such as solving problems for kids or making decisions for them.

The term “helicopter parent” first appeared in a book in 1969, referring to a parent of a teen who hovers too close. It gained steam in the 2000’s as college deans reported such behaviors as parents looking to get grades changed and calling to wake college kids for classes. I’m not sure my parents even knew when my classes were when I was in college – I can’t imagine a daily wake-up call.

Somewhere along the line, “helicopter parenting” trickled down to parents with younger children. Today, if you stay too close, according to the judgment of another, you’re a helicopter. I get tons of questions from confused parents – they want to do their best to love and support their kids, but they don’t want to hang too close and cause problems by “hovering”. Sigh.

Young children need parental support. They need help and guidance along the way. Do they need you to solve every problem? Of course not! Do they sometimes need help brainstorming problem solving strategies? Absolutely.

The best advice I can give on this one is to strike the term “helicopter parenting” from your vocabulary. It’s overused and often misused, and that’s a problem.

Beyond that, try this:

Trust your instincts.

You know your family better than anyone else. Some kids need close supervision at the park, while others need room to spread their wings and fly. I know, for instance, that my daughter can climb super high and never fall but if my son follows her I need to trail him – he often catches up to her only to realize that he doesn’t love heights. I also know that my kids have potentially fatal food allergies, so all parties require close supervision.

Trust your parental instincts. You know what your kids need and how to fulfill those needs. If you worry about what others think, you might not make the best choices for your family. Stay focused on your own family and tune out the white noise.

Talk about feelings.

Kids need to be able to experience and cope with frustration, anger, sadness, and every other feeling that comes up throughout the day. Too often parents jump in to solve a problem so that kids don’t have to experience big emotions.

Emotions are good and all feelings matter. Talk about the feelings that occur when something is hard or just out of reach. Let your child cry and express her emotions as she sees fit. Then label those feelings, talk about what caused them, and discuss ways to feel calm.

Problem solve together.

Solving every problem for your child leads to learned helplessness. Solving problems with your child provides guidance and support while empowering your child to become a problem solver.

Brainstorm together. Ask leading questions, but don’t provide the answers. We all have moments when we need sometime to listen and provide support, right? Kids feel the same way. Sometimes they need someone to sit close and listen while they try to find a solution.

Listen.

Listen for the sake of listening, not for the sake of crafting the perfect response. Too often we get caught up in partial listening – we listen to respond. The best listeners, however, need time to respond. They need time process what was said and respond when they have something thoughtful to add to the conversation. The best listeners…listen.

Listen to what your kids say. Let the feelings and emotions hang in the air for a moment. Sit with them. Experience them. Take the time to empathize before you problem solve. When your children learn that they won’t break every time they experience big emotions, they will be better equipped to cope with the hard stuff along the way.

Make time for play.

Kids learn a lot from free play. They learn to solve problems. They learn to resolve conflict. They learn to cope with emotions. Play is the business of childhood – make time for it.

For more on the importance of free play, check out these articles:

Parents, Are Your Kids Getting Enough Free Play Time?

5 Ways Even Working Parents Can Factor in More Free Play

Why Free Play Is Important During the Summer

How to Handle Conflict With Your Spouse

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One of my editors asked me to write an article about handling the conflict that naturally arises during a marriage.  Arguments happen – that doesn’t mean that a relationship isn’t working.  In fact, learning to work through conflict with your spouse actually helps you learn to cope with frustration and disappointment in other areas of your life.  So that silly argument about the dishes that never get done the other day?  That can actually help you out.  Go ahead, air your dirty laundry when you need to – it’s for the greater good.

The problem with conflict, however, is dealing with it when one or both partners rely on maladaptive coping strategies.  There are right and wrong ways to handle a conflict, and if you haven’t practiced adaptive coping strategies, chances are you will get stuck in a negative loop that leads to increased anger and resentment.  That’s not good for a marriage (or a friendship or a sibling relationship…)

While my editor asked me to write about couples, I do believe that most of the information applies to any number of relationships – friends, siblings, parents, relatives…we all have ups and downs along the way.  How we choose to handle those obstacles, however, can make or break a relationship.

When people end up in my office to work through conflict and frustration, I always ask them two questions:  What is your role in the conflict and what are your go-to coping styles?  The truth is that even if something is 99% the fault of the other person, there’s still that 1% waiting to be claimed.  You can’t change other people, but you can grab your 1% and find healthy alternatives.

Adults tend to establish patterns when it comes to relating to others.  Even if a go-t0 strategy isn’t working, they might continue to use it because it’s become second nature.  It’s important to take the time to evaluate your communication style and coping strategies and find ways to make improvements.  No one is perfect, after all.

There are a few red zones to look for when it comes to maladaptive coping strategies.

  • Do you rely on the silent treatment when angry?
  • Do you look for areas of weakness to bring the other person down?
  • Do you play the blame game?
  • Do you involve third parties to find support?

If any of these sound familiar, please head over to SafeBee and check out 4 Ways to Argue More Fairly.  The article includes reasons behind the maladaptive strategies and tips for breaking negative patterns of communication.

Communication is essential to a healthy relationship.  You might not be able to changes others, but you can always make changes that benefit the relationships that mean the most to you.  Enjoy!

Parenting Articles on Momtastic

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I’ve been so busy freelancing everywhere else that I haven’t taken the time to share everything here.  Many of you email me or look me up on Facebook to ask advice on specific topics, and I cover most of those topics on other sites.

I recently joined the writing team at Momtastic.  They have great parenting content over there.  Please check out the following articles published there (if any of them are of interest to you).  I’ll see you over there!

5 Secrets to Raising a Kid With Excellent Anger Management Skills

Why Play-Based Learning in Kindergarten Is So Important (Favorite article in a while!)

8 Surprising Signs Your Kid Is Addicted to His iPad (Don’t let the title scare you…)

Why No Good Can Come From Pushing Kids to be Early Readers

And…

How to Teach Your Kids About Strangers Without Using Crazy Scare Tactics (Important!)

Lesson learned:  Update more often.

Boys Will Be Boys No More

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To know me is to know that I can’t stand it when parents make excuses for boys just because they are, well, boys.  He’s just being a boy.  That’s what boys do.  That’s how boys play.  He doesn’t know any better.

I’m not sure why people are content to sell boys so short.  Sure, some boys play rough…but some don’t.  Some love video games and zombies…but some don’t.  Some love cars and trucks and racing while others love sports, sports, sports.  Some love art, music, and numbers while others love books, writing and playing pretend.  The point is that boys come in all shapes and sizes with all different interests and passions.

But no matter the interest…boys should learn the concept of mutual respect.  They should learn about space, boundaries and taking no for an answer.

It’s time to put an end to the excuses.  If we teach them now – if we plant the seeds early – we can raise a better generation of boys.  The stories of assault on college campuses just keep coming in.  It’s alarming on every level.  We might feel powerless on some level, but we do have the opportunity to change the way we socialize boys.  And that begins with higher expectations.

My little boy melts my heart every single day.  He’s sweet and sensitive, kind and empathic.  He looks out for others and always extends a hand when someone falls.  While some of that comes from within, we’ve never expected anything less.  He is capable of so many things, and kindness is certainly one of them.

Stop by mom.me for steps to raising respectful boys.  We’re all in this together.

That So-Called Mommy Problem

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I love being a mom.  I fought long and hard to become a mom, and I really do love it.  I love being called mommy.  I love when other people refer to me as mom…even if that means they forgot my name.  I don’t have any issues with the word mom.

I could go on and on about this whole perceived “mommy culture” thing, but the truth is that motherhood is what you make of it.

Head on over to mom.me to read my take on the so-called “mommy problem“.

How Play Helps ADHD

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When I first started working with kids with learning differences, medication for ADHD was reserved for those who really needed it.  It was a last resort, and for good reason.

There can significant side effects when stimulants enter the bodies of young children, and sometimes the side effects just aren’t worth the few hours of attention in school.  That’s what parents said over and over again when faced with that difficult decision.

There’s been a dangerous trend in ADHD, though.  Medication seems to be a first step in many cases these days, and some kids are being prematurely diagnosed with the disorder.

Lack of free play might not seem like a big deal when you have one million other things to do, but for your child – it’s the biggest deal.  Play is what kids do.  It’s how they learn and grow and make sense of the world.  It’s how they remain healthy and get their exercise.  It’s how they get their worries out and keep anxiety low.  It’s what they do.  They need it.  They crave it.  But they aren’t getting it.

Head on over to mom.me to read more about how play can help kids with ADHD.

Then get outside and play!

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder

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Many parents have concerns when it comes to sensory processing issues and toddlers.  The truth is that toddlers are all over the place.  Developmental milestones are great for understanding child development in a broad sense, but kids develop at their own pace.  And some are highly sensitive to their environments, while others are not sensitive at all.  Most fall somewhere in the middle.  It’s a continuum.  And it will change over time.

That said, it’s perfectly normal to wonder about sensory processing.  If a toddler screams every time he gets dressed, it might be more than just a sensitivity.  If sensory processing becomes the main focus of your day…you probably want to check in with your pediatrician.

I get a lot of questions about Sensory Processing Disorder.  Head on over to EverydayFamily to learn how to spot sensory processing disorder and what to do to help your child.

Why Teens and Guns Don’t Make a Pretty Picture

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I wish I could set this up in some meaningful and eloquent way, but I can’t.

There has been too much loss, and I’m at a loss.

We owe it to our children to find a better way…and that begins with focusing on responsible gun ownership.  Posing with rifles in senior portraits is irresponsible.

You can head over to mom.me to read the rest.

What is the Common Core Missing?

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Lessons in kindness, that’s what.

With so much emphasis on accelerated learning and racing to the top (of what, exactly?), our education system seems to be forgetting one essential lesson:  Kids need to learn how to relate.  They need to learn about things like compassion, empathy, and kindness.  And while some of that can certainly be taught at home, kids spend 6+ hours at school each day.  It should be addressed there, as well.

Go ahead, work on those standards.  But for the love of children everywhere…add a few standards for social competency.  It’s important.

Stop by mom.me to read more about it.

Smartphone Breaks for Moms

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Do you ever wonder if your need to stay connected impedes your ability to live in the moment and enjoy the life you’re actually living?

I read so many articles about creating the so-called perfect work-life balance, but it always feels like more of the same.  Slow down.  Step back.  Enjoy the small moments.

I believe in those things, I really do.  And I have always attempted to live life in the slow lane.  “Do more of what makes you happy”, says my new favorite mug that I use only for tea – relaxing.  Reading a book with a mug of tea by my side during a quiet moment makes me happy.

But I do work.  And I am a mom.  And I do have a husband.  And friends and family.  I like to volunteer at school and help the PTA.  I love coaching my daughter’s soccer team.  Eight 7 and 8 year olds full of energy and girl power?  That rocks.  But you can see where my balance is sometimes off.

Ignoring my phone, while arguably not the best strategy around, helps.  When my kids are with me, it’s nowhere near me.  When my people are safe and in my arms, I don’t need to constant distraction.  It helps to have it out of sight.  The stuff in those emails and messages and status updates?  Almost all of that can wait.  And so it does.

I haven’t found the perfect balance and I’m still working on saying no to helping absolutely everyone…but getting my Smartphone out of my hair for a few hours a day really has helped.

It’s funny.  When I got my very first iPhone years ago, I felt like a world of possibilities was at my fingertips.  Now I feel like a world of distractions awaits every time I pick it up.  It’s amazing what time and age teaches us…

Anyway, head over to mom.me and check out “5 Reasons to Shove the Smartphone to the Back of the Junk Drawer”.  Then get out there and enjoy some version of nature (I miss the horseshoe crabs – is it summer yet?)  You deserve it.

p.s. Give your most important people their own ring and text tones – let the rest wait.  It works, I promise.