Helicopter Parents on the Playground: Let the Children Play

Posted October 17, 2008 by

Photo of elisabeth

I was on the playground the other day with my five-year-old, and I brought a book with me. You see, I was determined to actually sit on the bench and read while he played. A funny thing happened, though. All the other parents were standing close by their kids and directing their play. (Now, I understand why you would do this with a younger child or toddler, but I’m talking parents of eight-year-olds here.) The parents, who I didn’t know, kept looking over their shoulders at me, as if to say, “Why aren’t you in here helping your child?” My son was going up and down the slide and having a ball, so I didn’t get what the fuss was about. As I reluctantly got up to supervise him, it hit me: being a helicopter parent is starting to become the new norm.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of helicoptering behavior myself at times. I’m sure my mom, for one, thinks I’m way too involved in my son’s play activities. And when I think of how I grew up, I can see why.  My big brother and I, along with the neighborhood kids, would be out in the woods all day, making dams in the creek behind our house, or playing capture the flag for hours until my mom called us home. (My husband Joe grew up in an urban area and describes day-long “kick the can” matches and having the run of his neighborhood.) And when my mom took us to the playground, she brought a book and actually read it. The unstated rule was that we only went to her if we were bleeding, a bone was broken or a tooth had been knocked out. And I’d have to say most of my friends’ moms and dads were the same.

I know things have changed since then and people are more worried in general about their kids, (perhaps we’re more aware of the dangers out there?) but I also think undirected play — times when kids can just be kids and not have a grown-up hovering over them or telling them how to play — is one of the most important things we can give our children. One of my best memories of childhood is that I had the sheer luxury of time: Time to just hang out and observe an anthill for an hour, to watch the clouds making shapes in the summer sky, and time for my friends and I to come up with games, all on our own. No parents allowed.

Any helicopter parent stories you’d like to share? And, are you a hands-off parent, or do you tend to jump in there and guide your kids as they play? There are no wrong answers here — it’s all a balance, after all.

About

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

Popular on Empowering Parents

Reader Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. J_dad (Edit) Report

    I love to just sit on the bench, read a book, sit in the sun or have an engaging conversation with another adult (you know, an actual adult conversation without interruption), while my 2 yr old just plays by herself or with a new found friend.  I’ve noticed that when encouraged to play without my supervision, she’ll find creative ways to entertain herself, engage more with others and generally grow as an independent person realizing her full potential…It’s so much  better to encourage independent play, for the child and yourself as an adult whose brain doesn’t work like a 2 yr old and needs stimulating conversation or just a moment of peace and relaxation.  Sometimes I feel the eyes of judgement too from the helicopter culture…but really don’t pay it any mind!  If anything you’re showing that your child can be happy on her own and you yourself can just be yourself.

    Thanks for this post!

    Reply
  2. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Dear Don’t Judge and MJ: Thank you for sharing your perspective. What you’re describing is not helicopter parenting — it’s responsible parenting. What I was talking about is a trend where people tend to “over-parent” their kids and be overly protective. This way of thinking has resulted in playgrounds covered with rubber and schools that prohibit jump rope because it’s too “dangerous.” Saying that, I am really glad to hear your side of the story because you’re right, you never know what the truth is until you walk in someone else’s shoes. Thanks for weighing in!

    Reply
  3. MJ (Edit) Report

    I know some of you will judge me without knowing me or my situation or my daughter. Because that’s the true problem in going to a playground with parents/children who don’t know you at all. Many assume that from an outward appearance, the children and parents are very similar…that there aren’t reasons or circumstances for the way you parent or styles of parenting that your child responds to better. It’s so easy to say, let them go and let them play. I would love to be able to be that parent who could do that and relax.

    Though I’m in agreement with many points made here, especially that there needs to be balance…that last post by dontjudgetheunknown was the one I really understand.

    I have an almost 5 year old with a chronic medical condition. Should I have to announce to everyone that is why I watch her so closely or can I try to keep her reasonably safe by hovering some while letting her enjoy the playground? Must she wear a t-shirt that says I’m highly spirited and need extra help in listening in order to navigate my world so that I can speak to her on the playground without the evil eye? I would never judge another parent for actually parenting. Why am I judged?

    I agree, IMO children SHOULD play on their own when appropriate and interact without interference, handling social situations if they can, if not they should be able to ask for help if they are at an age where they can verbalize this. So I do not think hovering is the way to go just for the sake of being protective when it’s not necessary. On the other hand as far as parents with children with no “circumctances” I say, do what feels comfortable for you as a family. If you want to hover I won’t be judging you.

    For me, I do not want my child to spend the day/night in the ER if I can prevent that and I will not confide in strangers what we deal with everyday. This is supposed to be a fun place, right? 🙂 I won’t sit there and describe our problems when it’s not a playdate but a public park.

    That said, other than her private problems, my daughter is exuberant and fun and wants to join in but children ignore her. After a time, I ask her to come talk to me and I explain that the bigger kids play rougher and that it would be better to wait for some children her age to come around. When this happens (let’s say a 3 year old comes along) often they are overwhlemed by my talkative kid! So they clam up or walk away. She may follow and get ignored and I let it happen for a bit, then call her to tell her to move on. Point is, I am her only social coach at this stage. She has been too sickly to attend classes or preschool. I’m not complaining about her or our life, mind you, we handle things our way and it’s our normal and it’s okay. I’m also not blaming the other kids. But from an outside point of view she looks and acts normal so I’m judged for how I behave with her! Is there some other set of rules of parenting I missed that doesn’t take LIFE and what it throws at you into consideration? Should my child only get to play with children exactly like herself and me with parents exactly like me? Does anyone teach tolerance and acceptance of others anymore because it seems lacking among the adults. I hover, I helicopter and I have reasons that are not anyone’s business. Isn’t that okay too without saying why I’m doing it?

    I just want other parents to stop and realize that there are children out there who may not have had the physical or emotional or social experiences that their children have had no matter what they appear like. And since no one can know this by spending one day on the playground together, give us other parents a break by not being so quick to judge how we do something. You might be the same if your child spent most of her short time in the hospital. Walk a mile in my shoes.

    Our goal is to do as many normal things as we can. The playground is one of them. Mostly we have found it to be a place where the parents barely smile or talk, the children aren’t encouraged to include others and we often leave feeling isolated from our community. This is a problem in this community, just summing up our experiences here and not stereotyping other places.

    When my child is old enough to handle her medical problems, I will be happy to let her handle physical activities on her own. Everyday of our lives I would love to have and give her that freedom so many others take for granted. But I will not raise my daughter to feel different or to feel sorry for herself or hide her away. Nor will I throw her out there to fend on her own when she hasn’t had a normal childhood up to this point. So I guess others can judge away. Hopefully though by reading this, you can see that not every child is the same and maybe that parent, the one you like to judge is struggling to do the best they can and trying to give them the extra help they need. It just might not be all about not letting them be “normal” instead about trying to help them adjust to “closer to normal”

    Reply
  4. Dontjudgetheunknown (Edit) Report

    Here’s a thought before you judge. I’m a helicopter parent. My seven year old son (tall, looks 9 or 10) has a large heart aneurysm that could kill him instantly with a blow to the chest. He has a long list of exercise restrictions to keep him alive. These are established by the cardiologist, not me. I closely supervise his play to ensure he doesn’t suddenly drop dead. I know a woman with a son with life threatening allergies who does the same, until the kid is old enough to self monitor.
    It’s easy to be a critic.

    Reply
  5. tired (Edit) Report

    I have a daughter with auditory processing and executive functioning problems. Early on she had hearing problems too. Translated, this means she doesn’t hear clearly and may not understand what is said. Consequently, her social skills were really poor. Add the executive functioning, where, presented with a new situation, she doesn’t know what to do. She has to be given solutions or life examples to continue or she shuts down. (For example, if your child says “hello”, she may hear “blah” and not know how to respond, so she doesn’t. Better yet, let one of your children say,” You’re too slow, get out of my way or I’ll push you off the slide”. This happened to my daughter.No broken bones, but it was a while before she got near a slide again. Gee, does that fall under no harm- let kids work it out?)
    How about the time the non-helicopter moms were talking and the other children began throwing rocks at one kid. My children told them to stop and they threw rocks at them. Let’s see, should my kids have picked up rocks too? They came to me and we left. Or maybe when the moms were talking and the older boys were beating on tunnels small kids were in, until a man across from the playground stopped them – much to the embarassment of the moms. My son tried to stop them but he was one against 5. There is a line.
    I guess helping and watching makes me a helicopter parent. Please don’t judge a parent until you understand where a child is developmentally. The child may need the external brain.

    Reply
  6. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Lesetlo: What an excellent question — it’s something I grapple with myself. This has happened to my son, and I was really unsure of what to do. He felt horrible, I felt horrible, and we both felt pretty powerless. But after talking to some friends, teachers and counselors, I ended up handling it by coaching him at home and talking to his teachers at school. What I taught him to say was, “I don’t want to play with you if you’re being mean,” and walk away. Also, to shrug and say, “Whatever,” and walk away when teasing occurs. I also told him to come and tell me or his teacher when teasing or name-calling is going on. (Schools seem to be on top of this, for the most part, but you might have to talk to your child’s teacher to get them on board — he or she might not have noticed what’s going on.) I think the best thing we can do is give our kids some tools to use when bullying or exclusion happens. Eventually, things did improve for my son, but it took quite awhile, (The first semester of school last year) I won’t lie. I also think that if a certain group of bullying kids hangs out at a playground you go to (and their parents don’t seem to care if their kids are picking on others) it might be time to find a new place to take your child. I hope this is helpful. Hang in there!

    Reply
  7. Lesetlo (Edit) Report

    Here’s a follow-up question to the helicopter thread… what counts as someone “being hurt?” This is our situation, with our 8 year old. He gets the brunt of a lot of exclusionary play, teasing, playing “run away from _(his name)_, etc.” He is lonely, miserable, and decidedly *dis*empowered… but he isn’t bleeding. So, my question is, for those parents who stay out of earshot and immediate sight of their kids for an extended period, and expect the kid to come the them, if needed, how do you know your child isn’t being *emotionally* hurt, or isn’t hurting others this way, outside of your supervision? Or, is that just part of “toughening up” and you wouldn’t try to intervene, anyway?

    Reply
  8. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    lale: What a great question. Like you, we also limit our (6 y.o.) son to 2 activities per week, and sometimes that even seems to be too much! I try to pick up on his cues and see if he looks tired or burnt out. If he is, I try to ease up somewhere in his life and make sure he has time to just be a kid. (Like, we skip karate that week, for example, and chill out at home. Or I don’t schedule a playdate that week or something.) I think children need time to just process all the new stuff that’s going on in their world. Really, when you think about it, they’re experiencing new things almost every day. So I try to make sure Alex has time after school with no TV or anything, just playing or making something at his art table. What does your son like to do that is a calming activity for him? Lie on his bed and listen to music, build stuff outside, do Bionicles or Legos? All these things help kids de-stress, I think. Also, if your son seems really stressed, you might want to consider getting rid of one of his activities. (Maybe swimming could be something he just does for fun, and not a class?) I would also ask him about how he’s feeling — is he maxed out and stressed, or does he feel like he’s happy and able to balance everything? Hope this is helpful, Lale. I really like that you’re listening to your intuition here. Sometimes, I think that’s the most powerful tool we have as parents!

    Reply
  9. lale (Edit) Report

    Elisabeth, thank you for this post. i can’t agree more.
    i would like to bring up an issue that was mentioned in your post – The lack of free time in today’s childhood. Like you, I remember spending whole afternoons chasing lizards in the back yard, with the neighbors. However my 9 years old can’t have these wonderful experiences because his schedule is so tight. Unlike some of his friends he has “only” two after school activities (piano and swimming) but between the long school day, homework, reading time and practice time he has no time for friends.
    I feel like we are stealing his childhood but on the other hand I don’t want him to be left behind while all the other kids are experiencing many “extra curriculum” activities. I’m constantly “hovering” above, reminding him of the time and the obligations he’s yet to finish before the day is over or before his practice time. I think I’m razing a very stressed young child.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to balance today’s busy childhood?

    Reply
  10. HKCrunch (Edit) Report

    For the parents of ADD/ADHD kids–please remember the challenges you face with their education and socialization when it comes time to think about colleges. I work at a very traditional state university and I am amazed with how many parents drop the ball apparently when advising their children about appropriate colleges to consider. If your child has struggled academically or socially, please send them to a small school that has the resources your child needs-DON’T send them to a typical university without coping skills. You can’t “parent” them from 2,000 miles away, either!

    Reply
  11. Tammy Lessick (Edit) Report

    Sounds like you are describing my childhood with my cousins. I have a 5yr old who is great playing outside. I have a 9 yr old son w/ Autism and I have to do a lot of directing with him. Maybe that is why I encourage my daughter to be as creative in her play as possible. I know she is capable of it. I was at that age. Sometimes, I will join in with her. Let her lead the direction of play.

    Reply
  12. Loo Ney (Edit) Report

    I love this article. When my son was small we would go hang out in parks for hours and hours and I would bring a book and read it with great relish and check on him with my eyes.

    I noticed there were two groups of parents at the park (depending on the time of day), the ones sitting and relaxing and the other group buzzing around their kids, nattering at them non-stop and directing their play. I honestly at first thought they were just NUTS.

    I figured out the ones sitting and reading like me were stay at home moms who were tired of interacting non-stop with their kids and needed the mental break. The buzzing parents were working parents who don’t get to see their kids as much and were working on “quality time” and feeding their need to be close to their kids.

    Of course, I prefer things my way 😉 Nice and relaxed and let the kids play. If there was trouble, I would watch and wait to see what would happen. Sometimes I would get up simply to appease another parent rather than a need to direct my child. Just to point out I do not tolerate hitting or bad language and would merit out punishment to my child for that.

    I also did not bother to discipline someone else child behaving badly and being unsupervised. No point walking that dangerous road. I would just teach my child things to do in that situation, i.e. come to me, tell me, run away, tell them to stop. etc. etc. I figure I can’t shield my child from the realities of life, just give him the tools to deal with it.

    It’s my opinion that kids def. need unstructured time to play. I’ve been in too many houses where craziness is non-stop: the t.v. on, the phone ringing non-stop, no plan for dinner, late dinners, screaming at kids to do homework or get ready for bed unsupervised, running kids to too many activities, kids fighting, the dog barking, needing to run to the store for one item, neighbours and friends dropping in. I mean, you expect kids to function smoothly in that environment? Who could study with all that noise going on? I know I couldn’t; I grew up with six siblings and I spent most of my time getting beat up or trying to hide from getting beat up. I rarely did homework and my grades were horrible.

    Once I was at my friend’s house and while she left the room I turned the t.v. off as our children were not watching it anyway; they were playing on the floor. She walked in and yelled, who turned the t.v. off? (it was a cartoon). She turned the t.v. back on to my horror. I was like, nobody is watching that. Why does it need to be on? It seemed the noise was for her, to regulate her mood, or need for noise or something. I thought better to turn on some music if you need noise.

    Bottom line, parenting is fun. Watching other people parent is even more fun. Watching working parents parent is the most fun of all.

    But you know what, at the end of the day, the thing about being a parent is **YOU** get to make the decisions. We can always find another parent doing something we would never do. We won’t know for a couple of decades who was right and who was wrong, if we ever do. We all have the same goal, raise children living to their potential.

    Reply
  13. DLN (Edit) Report

    I completely agree with Marsha. My son, 4 yrs old, is very tough when someone does something to him or something happens to him. He is on the small side for his age but rarely cries when injured or hurt by somebody else. We have a friend down the street that is an entire year older than him and outweighs him by 25 pounds that cries instantly if bumped yet throws his weight around without a second thought. I believe that my son’s toughness is due to the fact that I didn’t and still don’t hover over him. If he falls, he falls, if he needs me I’m there for him. Things happen and kids will be kids – let them be!

    Reply
  14. Marsha (Edit) Report

    Well, I am sure I’m oneo f those parents who annoy y’all. I do not monitor my kids on the slides or monkey bars or anything else. If they fall, they fall. If they get hurt and need a hug or bandaid I have liberal supplies of each. But kids nowadays just do not expect to ever get hurt or don’t expect things to be hard.

    AFA the bullying, as far as I know, my kids don’t bully. HOwever, I do expect peer pressure and peer influence to take care of some of this. Let your kid stand up for himself once in awhile! I do not jump in immediately when my daughter is trying to be first, or trying to push people aside.

    I do think that’s “kids being kids” and the kids I’ve seen are more than capable of saying “No, I was going first” or doing a hip shove back. It never escalates with my girls, they back right down, so I honestly consider that a healthy interaction.

    Reply
  15. Leslie (Edit) Report

    I am a firm believer that kids need to be allowed to be kids. I homeschool my kids, and I agree they need time to play and burn energy. We have school in the morning, and then take an hour for lunch (time to eat and play). After lunch, we get back to our schoolwork, and when they are finished all of their work, they have the rest of the day to play. My kids go outside and play unsupervised all the time. Kids from the neighborhood come and play in my yard. I know where my kids are, who they are playing with, and what they are doing – but I am not in the middle of everything. I step out on the porch from time to time to check on them, but I let them play. If there are any problems, at least one of the kids will come let me know. And the neighborhood kids know I will not put up with any bullying, fighting, name-calling, etc. There is a playground across the street from my house. When we go there, I take a book, but I usually don’t get to read because I am talking to other parents. Most of us have young kids who need to be pushed on the swings, and we push our kids while we talk, and when they go to the slide, we sit and watch. I don’t hover, but I don’t ignore them either. If they need to be corrected, I will correct them. If they need me I am close by. It is important that kids learn how to play and get along with others. It is just as important that they learn how to settle differences on their own, within reason, or course.

    Reply
  16. Jan (Edit) Report

    OK so I got sidetracked. Back to the playground… I refuse to go around the playground to make sure your kid is safe from falling off the slide as they stand on it and walk up it backwards or falling off the monkey bars when they are too small to handle it or pushing your child on a swing because you don’t want to get up and take care of your child. There is hovering and directing and then there is just plain parenting.

    Reply
  17. Jan (Edit) Report

    So where is the line? We are not helicopter parents but we don’t sit by and watch bullying, etc. And we don’t tolerate generally rude and obnoxious behaviour. What about the parents that sit by and watch their kids scream and yell and constantly interrupt others and just generally disrupt everything? I agree that kids will be kids but come on… There is a limit. Most parents I’ve seen that have the kids will be kids attitude, take it everywhere. The playground, the store, school, boy scout and girl scout meetings, even church. Our scout leader loses her voice at every meeting because she literally has to yell at all times to be heard. Meanwhile, one dad is sitting over here saying, “Just look at Nathan. He is so smart. He always wants to be first. I’ve told him to speak up and and speak his mind. Look there, he’s standing on a chair to get her attention. See, what did I tell you, he’s always right.” The rest of us see a smart-mouth, loud-mouth, snotty know-it-all that doesn’t take any direction, discipline or criticism. But hey, kids will be kids right?

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth (Edit) Report

    Morgan: I agree with you completely. That’s not helicopter parenting, that’s responsible parenting! (And believe me, I’ve seen parents let their kids bully others and pretend they don’t notice. It’s infuriating.) What I tend to do if someone is getting hurt is to say something like, “Whoa. You guys are playing too rough. You need to stop.” And then I ask my child and any others who were being shoved around if they’re OK, and I don’t give attention to the kid who was bullying the others. So far, when I’ve addressed the situation, the other parent comes over and gets involved with the child who was being aggressive. But does anyone else out there have any other ideas on how to deal with this?

    Reply
  19. Morgan (Edit) Report

    I don’t believe in helicopter parenting, but to be sitting on the bench reading while your could is the one that’s bullying and pushing his way around the park is not right either. I seem to come across the group of Mother’s at the park whose not watching there children and those children are pushing the little ones off the slide, etc.
    Just my $.02.

    Reply
  20. Joe Meree (Edit) Report

    I completely agree with Dr. Joan. I’ll go one step further to submit that many of our society’s problems are caused by kids not learning social skills from each other. I would include in this shootings at schools, disrespect towards authority, feelings of entitlement and possibly behavior problems diagnosed as medical (nobody or everybody had ADD when I was a kid). Parents take kids to play. They pay money for their kids to play and everything is completely structured. I’m working on starting a movement called “Free Fun”. Free Fun means there can be no money spent for the experience. Kid-powered toys like balls and bats and even bikes can be one-time purchased, but the idea is for the kids to organize their games and just play with no parental interference. Anybody interested in helping with this?
    Joe

    Reply
  21. Karin (Edit) Report

    I was a bench sitter….and I could tell that the other hellicopter parents looked down on me, like I wasn’t taking care of my kids if I wasn’t up in their face. They also kept their children so occupied that their children never seemed to interact with other kids only the parents. Sad.

    Reply
  22. Dr. Joan (Edit) Report

    I’m jumping in here! I’d like to point out that there is a huge difference between stepping in to protect your child from harm and helicopter parenting. By definition, helicopter parenting means hovering over your child to the point of making all decisions for them, micro-managing their play time, and essentially telling them what to do. As a society, we are seeing this at all levels: during pre-school play-dates, in elementary schools where parents are getting involved in their kids playground activities, in high school, where parents are protecting their kids from their own bad behavior, and even in college, where parents are calling professors demanding grade changes for their almost grown kids!
    In response to what to do when your child’s play-date is aggressive, of course you should always step in if your child is being physically hurt or bullied, this is common sense. But common sense goes out the window with helicopter parents. They want to control every aspect of their children’s lives and play time.
    These situations can be resolved without hovering. For example, if your child is the more “passive” one at the park (as my 3 always were) encourage them prior to leaving the house how to handle the aggressive child. Using statements such as, “Stop! I don’t like that!” or whatever you deem appropriate. I realize this doesn’t always work. Talk with your child about what you will do if their words don’t work. Examples can be walking away, finding you, leaving the park together. The key is to build up your child’s confidence so that he/she can handle this on their own. If you have to step in, talk with your child about what they feel their options are. (Naturally, if your child is pre-verbal, you have to make this decision for them) The key here is to remember that you cannot control any situation your child is in, but you can equip them with the tools to help themselves if things get dicey. The problem with helicopter parenting is that kids never learn to solve any problems on their own. They look to their parents to resolve all the stressful, difficult, and painful situations throughout their childhood. It is essential that kids learn to do these things independent of us. Again, I am not suggesting that we watch our children flail helplessly against a bully, but you do have the power to help them help themselves. It can be a fine line, this is true. But your first line of reasoning with your child should always be, “What do you think you should do if….?”

    Reply
  23. Marsha (Edit) Report

    oh, I forgot to add. One reason we homeschool is so that my daughter can have time to do…….whatever. She really needs that fantasy play downtime to soothe herself. She is as I said ADHD and has high anxiety. She is also very creative and well, hyper. So if she didn’t have the outlet of playing hwo she wanted for extended periods of time, I think she’d lose a crucial part of herself.

    It helps, of course,that we can’t really afford “activities” and that she is highly resistant to structured activities as well.

    Reply
  24. Marsha (Edit) Report

    I probably (no, I WAS) a helicopter parent when my oldest was little. She’s 6 now, and I often don’t see her unless I specifically check on her for two or three hours when she has friends over or vice versa. And my 3 year old is shy and hesitant at first. I don’t go play with her. I might get her started, but if she chooses to hang on my leg, she can do so at the bench where I’m visiting or reading. I am very involved with my kids, I too homeschool what I suspect is an ADHD 6 year old, but they need to learn that Mommy is a person with needs. I dont’ think I need to hire a babysitter or nanny for them to learn that. They can learn it just fine with me sitting on the couch reading, studying, listening to podcasts on my mp3 player, or crocheting or talking on the phone………..you know what I mean, right?
    Anyway, I see that uber parent mostly in suburban middle class, which I grant is the vast majority of stay at home moms. When I was in MOM’s club, and MOPS and stuff, I saw that more than I do in the homeschooling community that we are becoming part of.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth (Edit) Report

    I think these are all good points, and truth be told, I have struggled mightily with the “tattle-tale” vs. “work it out” method of dealing with kids’ fights. (My 5 year old tends to be more on the tattle tale side, but he’s also smaller than most kids his age and doesn’t like to fight. Except last week at soccer when he stood up to the bully on the field who was hitting, pushing and knocking down all the other five and six-year-olds. My son got knocked down one too many times and used his Karate moves on the bigger kid. Yay, Karate!!!) At any rate, I agree that there is a balance between constantly jumping in and controlling how your kids play, and standing aside and letting them get pummeled. (which I’m definitely not willing to do.) My friend Jenna says that she lets her kids work it out unless someone is getting hurt, but I haven’t quite found my happy medium yet. Thoughts, anyone?

    Reply
  26. Brooke (Edit) Report

    I am coming over to Julie’s house for my next playdate. Actually I ended up breaking up with the friend who gave me the puppet show. I wish I could have told her that I didn’t agree with her ultra hands on parenting approach, but didn’t know how to do it without seeming like I was judging her.
    And, I do agree that you can’t be too hands off or the play date will turn into go quickly go “Lord of the Flies.” I learned this the hard way. I once made the mistake of telling my son “to work it out” and he ended up bleeding after the friend in question threw a block at his head.

    Reply
  27. Julie (Edit) Report

    I think Victoria brings up some interesting points. While I wholeheartedly agree with Brooke, I think it’s a fine line between letting kids be kids and being completely hands off. I actually seem to run into more problems with anti-helicopter parents (it must be the laissez-faire crowd I run with). Sometimes I feel like shouting, “Hey, your kid is bonking mine on the head with a shovel! DO SOMETHING!” I do agree that kids that “tattle tale” are looking for help with dealing with a situation, and I tend to respond by giving them words for dealing with it rather than stepping in myself. As I write this, I realize the reason I don’t have any helicopter parents in my life, is because I’ve consciously removed them. You want to make me watch a puppet show you’re putting on? G’bye! We can’t have an adult conversation because you are constantly refereeing the children? See you later? You want to let the kids make a mess of the living room while we sneak chocolate in the kitchen? Come sit by me.

    Reply
  28. Victoria (Edit) Report

    I have a different outlook on the subject of Helicopter parenting.
    I am always amazed at the parents that say, ‘Let the kids work it out’, or ‘We don’t like tattle tales’. I think those are both ‘cop out phrases’ for parents/adults, and a very ineffective way of handling most situations. What I usually see happening during most ‘Let the kids work it out’, situations is that the aggressive child ends up being the bully and the passive child the victim. And the story is repeated over and over as the behavior reinforces the role each unwittingly plays. In my opinion, this is damaging to both children and doesn’t teach either of them an effective way of handling conflict. That is why I think it is important for an adult to step in when a conflict arises to be a mature mediator, and to show the children how to appropriately handle the situation.
    Also, the phrase, ‘We don’t like tattle tales’, dismisses and belittles a child that is seeking help from an adult. ‘Tattle taling’ is the child’s way of telling the adult, ‘I don’t know how to handle the situation I am in’. So again, I think the adult has the responsibility to evaluate the situation for the child and to give that child, (and all children involved) the right tools to resolve the conflict at hand.
    By the way, if you are turned off by the tone in which they come to you, (whiney ect.) just ask them to talk to you in a normal voice/ tone, so you don’t reward that behavior.
    In my opinion this ‘teaching’ should start at the age of one and continue until you think your child understands how to handle most situations on their own. And through your guidance, by the age of 8 or 10 they should be able to rationally handle most social situations that come their way.

    Reply
  29. Brooke Williams (Edit) Report

    Elisabeth:

    I totally agree. I find playdates particularly difficult because many other mothers, some of them my good friends, continue to orchestrate the play of five year olds instead of just letting the kids be.

    Sometimes I wonder if they do that because they think they should, or if they are trying to show me what a good parent they are. At one play date, a mother actually expected me to sit and watch her perform a puppet show for the kids.

    At times like that, I have to fight the feeling that I am not a good mom because my idea of a good play date is talking to adults and letting the kids come up with their own games and play.

    Is that what makes you get up off the bench and stop reading?

    One mother gave me a puppet show. My idea of a good play date is to

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth (Edit) Report

    Thanks, Kevin. I really believe that “balance” is the key word here — the trick is to find a way to be involved with our kids without robbing them of an ability to think for themselves. I enjoyed your blog, by the way, and am really moved to hear about what you and your wife are doing for your nephew. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  31. Kevin Broccoli (Edit) Report

    Elisabeth, thank you so much for this post. My wife and I homeschool her 12-yr old brother. He has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and so it can be quite a challenge to find ways of teaching him effectively. Since we are always studying ways to improve, I think that we can sometimes fall into the habit of viewing every opportunity as one to learn. Perhaps viewing many opportunities as times to learn is beneficial, but certainly not all of them. Children need time to just play. They need unstructured, free time to do whatever they want (well, almost anything…ADD kids can be very creative, but also somewhat wild at times). But what you said really made me think.

    I have a blog called Homeschooling ADD Kids ( http://homeschoolingaddkids.com/blog/ ). I’ll put a link there to your post when I get back from a meeting later tonight so that my readers can see the need to keep the balance between helping their kids and being too overbearing.

    —Kevin Broccoli

    Reply
  32. Jennifer (Edit) Report

    This Helicopter parenting style is what I see the most of when interacting with families. My husband and I are of the mindset that kids need to be kids. However, we seem to be the minority. My son is nine years old. I’m sorry but kids argue and “fight” when there is a group of them together. They wrestle and yes, sometimes, someone may end up with a bruise or less. But, parents are unreasonable. For example, at a high school football game we attended a few weeks ago, my son and his friends were running around playing. There were some girls standing around this group. My son was running backwards and accidently hit one of the girls. She was not injured, not even a mark. But, she and her friends went immediately to her mother and told her that my son had hit her. No other explanation was given. The little girl then told me and I said I would speak to him. Well, the mother did not come to me, she went to the security officer and said that my son was slapping her daughter around. My husband and I were outraged. I then found the mother and spoke to her about what happened and she said she didn’t know me so that is why she went to the officer. I don’t know what to think about this blown out of proportion behavior of parents.

    Reply

SEARCHING FOR SOLUTIONS TO DISRESPECT?

Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help

150,000+

Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families