Helicopter parenting may negatively affect children's emotional well-being, behavior


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Children with overcontrolling parents may later struggle to adjust in school and social environments, study says

It's natural for parents to do whatever they can to keep their children safe and healthy, but children need space to learn and grow on their own, without Mom or Dad hovering over them, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association. The study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, found that overcontrolling parenting can negatively affect a child's ability to manage his or her emotions and behavior.

"Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment," said Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study. "Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school."

Children rely on caregivers for guidance and understanding of their emotions. They need parents who are sensitive to their needs, who recognize when they are capable of managing a situation and who will guide them when emotional situations become too challenging. This helps children develop the ability to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and leads to better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships and academic success. Managing emotions and behavior are fundamental skills that all children need to learn and overcontrolling parenting can limits those opportunities, according to Perry.

The researchers followed the same 422 children over the course of eight years and assessed them at ages 2, 5 and 10, as part of a study of social and emotional development. Children in the study were predominantly white and African-American and from economically diverse backgrounds. Data were collected from observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds.

During the observations, the research team asked the parents and children to play as they would at home.

"Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding," said Perry. "The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration."

Overcontrolling parenting when a child was 2 was associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5, the researchers found. Conversely, the greater a child's emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10. Similarly, by age 10, children with better impulse control were less likely to experience emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school.

"Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments," said Perry. "Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children's autonomy with handling emotional challenges."

Perry suggested that parents can help their children learn to control their emotions and behavior by talking with them about how to understand their feelings and by explaining what behaviors may result from feeling certain emotions, as well as the consequences of different responses. Then parents can help their children identify positive coping strategies, like deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.

"Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behavior when upset," said Perry.

Source: American Psychological Association
Journal: Developmental Psychobiology

This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ConductDisorders or its staff.

Pink Elephant

Well-Known Member
My mother in law was a total Helicopter Parent.

When she'd babysit for us, she never left the kids alone. Checking, re-checking, fussing over, pulling, prodding, straightening, and on and on it went, then there was the old, "what are you doing"? "What are you up to"? "What are you getting into"? My kids would display their unhappiness when I'd announce that Grandma (#2) would be babysitting, and my kids were by no means old at that point. Two were still in cribs.

I vividly remember one particular story oldest dear daughter told me... many-a story in fact, but the one story that stands out in my mind to this day is the one where grandma #2 (dear husbands mom) was babysitting at our house one afternoon. Dear daughter informed me that grandma kept getting up from the kitchen table, walking down the hallway and into the baby's room, lowering the crib railing, and checking the baby's diapers. When she was done her routine, she'd lift the railing back into the locked position, then walk back down to the kitchen again, sit down, and within a few minutes, she'd be at it again, getting back up, walking down the hallway to the baby's room, going through her ridiculous motions of lowering baby's crib railing (again), and re-checking baby's diapers (again).

I recall my daughters words to me... "grandma kept checking the baby to see if he needed changed, mommy, but she never changed him, she just kept checking him, lots and lots, mommy". Even my daughter knew grandmas actions weren't normal.

Grandma was perfectly (there)... no marbles missing at the time, and being that she was well-experienced in using old-fashioned traditional cloth diapers (dear husband and his siblings), she knew darned well a wet diaper wasn't cause for concern for the short-time baby would be down, yet grandma was hell-bent and determined that day to fuss over the baby and disturb him (again and again) for the entire time he was down for his afternoon nap. I was furious when I got home and found out what had unfolded while I was gone.

There are a TON of other stories, too (might have to start a new thread conversation about them in the near future), but the naptime one really stands out for me.

I always knew from certain stories dear husband told me, his mom was a helicopter mom, but her actions when babysitting at our house truly confirmed all that I knew.

Anyhow, needless to say, my own mom was our go-to babysitter when at all possible. She always let the kids be kids. Sure, they got fed, they got checked, and they certainly got changed, but my mom was more like me when it came to letting the kids be. Unless intervention was needed, my kids were free to be.

Even as a babysitter I don't recall fussing over anyone at anytime, regardless of whether it was nighttime, naptime, or whatever time, unless I absolutely had to. If I arrived at a home later where the kids were already down for the night, sure, I'd do a quick check on everyone to make sure all was well as soon I got there, but that's it. No repeated checks. I never concerned myself over running for a bottle, unless one was needed, and as far as changing diapers went, unless someone's pants were in obvious need of a change, I never bothered even checking them. As far as I was concerned, they were put to bed in clean, dry, freshly changed pants, because that was always the standard drill in our house when my siblings were babies.

You prepared a bottle, whisked or packed the kid down to their room, lifted them into their crib, changed their diapers, raised the crib railing to the locked and secured position, and night-night it was.

Pink Elephant

Well-Known Member
Got rambling so much that I overlooked adding that I believe (100%) helicopter parenting can lead to behavioural issues and problems, both in young and growing children and older more independent children.