I recently watched a makeover show that featured a 33-year-old man living rent-free in his parents’ house. He was jobless, lonely, and unmotivated, while wandering after his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. A perfect cliché, really.

The show hosts did their best to improve his appearance, and even presented him with his own studio apartment (albeit still in his parents’ basement). But during the entire episode, one thought kept running through my head: how do I prevent my daughter from becoming like this guy in 30 years?

Obviously, it isn’t all his parents’ fault that this man is the way he is. But I have to wonder — what role do his parents play, by enabling his current lifestyle, in stunting his personal and professional growth?

According to a 2008 study, the three developmental needs we all have are: the need for autonomy, the need to be confident in our own abilities and accomplishments, and the need to feel loved and cared for. From parents writing their children’s university entrance essays, tagging along on job interviews, and allowing their children to live rent-free at home at the age of 33, these kinds of “helicopter parenting” tactics — though having the best of intentions — don’t do much to create the kind of confidence and autonomy we all need.

I can understand the natural inclination to protect and shield. As a mom of a toddler, I want to make sure my child is safe and content. I have the tendency to hover when she climbs down the stairs or contemplates putting playdough in her mouth. But I also want her to know how to entertain herself, learn natural consequences, and take risks.

So how do we raise independent kids in a world that can seem so scary? Well, it means landing the helicopter.

Let Go

Deborah Gilboa, M.D., founder of AskDoctorG.com, has this bit of advice for parents:

“Teach [your children] to cross the street alone. Then let them do it. As a matter of fact, anything you’re worried about them doing alone, follow that recipe:

  1. Name the obstacle.
  2. Teach them to overcome it.
  3. Let them try.
  4. Rinse and repeat.”

It’s hard to let go of our children. But in order to raise confident and independent humans, we need to first give our children the necessary tools they need to complete tasks on their own. And then, like Gilboa says, we need to step back and let them give it a go. Rather than shielding our children from failure, we can teach them how to work through it and learn from it.

Remember how you learned to ride a bike? Your parents may have screwed on training wheels for a while. When your confidence and balance allowed, they were taken off. Your parent probably hovered, maybe even guided the handlebars, but eventually they let go and let you wobble. You may have fallen, scraped your knee and cried, but they encouraged you to get up, brush off, and try again. Within weeks you were pedaling around your block, then to a friend's house, and at last to the corner store or to school. Independent parenting is like that.

Let Them Experience Conflict

Another way we can disengage the helicopter is by allowing our children to experience conflict and permitting them to problem solve on their own. Sometimes when squabbles happen, it will be necessary to swoop in, but most of the time, older kids are able to settle things without our help. Parenting expert Amy McCready says, “If you want them to think for themselves, don’t provide all the answers.”

Expect Them to Contribute

Not everything in life is exciting or fun, which is why it’s so important to give our children age-appropriate chores to do around the house. By doing this, we’re not only giving them responsibility, but also a sense of accomplishment once the task is completed. Plus, having to do chores sets them up for future success.

So ask yourself: do you tend to hover? Try taking a step back. If you don’t allow your children the opportunity to fail, they won’t have the opportunity to succeed, either. And don’t worry — your kids will always need you. Just because you’re not hovering doesn’t mean you’re any less loving. In fact, you’re being a better parent because you love them enough to let go of the handlebars.




This article was written by: Leanne Janzen

Photo Credit: Josh Willink