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How to Stop Helicopter Parenting

Lucie Rice

Get a Grip

OK, so now we've (hopefully!) convinced you that quality parenting doesn't mean constant hovering. But how do you start to ease up? Sounds tough, but it can be done. Here, advice from the trenches—including both pros and real parents!

Be a submarine mom or dad instead, says Silvana Clark, author of Fun-Filled Parenting: A Guide to Laughing More and Yelling Less. “Instead of hovering around your child, stay close by—in case of real danger—but mostly out of sight, so he gets out of the habit of running to you for every problem.”

Ask your child's other care-givers what tasks he does when you're not around, then hold him to that standard at home, says Natalie Caine of Empty Nest Support Services, in Los Angeles, who frequently leads parenting groups that include helicopter moms. Does he put on his own rainboots at preschool but whine for you to do it on weekends? Insist you cut the crusts on his sandwiches, even though he'll eat crusts at your sister-in-law's house? Don't give in.

Make your kid a résumé, says Clark. “Take a piece of paper and write ‘Sally is three. Here are some cool things Sally can do by herself.’ Then list some of her abilities, like clearing her plate and putting her stuffed animals on her bed, and put a star next to each. Every time your child masters a new task, add it to the list, with the star. She'll be much less apt to ask you to wait on her, since she'll be so proud.” And as you look at the growing list, you'll have evidence that you don't need to provide concierge service after all. “There's almost a feeling that if you don't worry enough, something's wrong with you,” says Barnes.

Practice some basic playground skills with your child, says Paranoid Parents author Christie Barnes. “Show him how to kick a ball, climb on the mini-monkey bars, or even just go down the slide. If you see he can do these things safely, you'll feel more comfortable sitting back on the bench during his next park playdate,” she says.

Sit down and have a cup of coffee. Make a brief time every day when your butt's in a chair and your metaphorical copter is on the landing pad, too. “If your child calls for you and it isn't an emergency, say ‘I am drinking coffee right now,’” advises Caine. “If he really needs you, he'll come to you, and if you do this enough, he may stop asking for help with every little thing so often.”

Help your child get the picture. “I found myself being a helicopter mom and knew I needed to change,” says Dawn Arnold of Mazon, IL, mother of a 5-year-old. “I filled a small photo album with pictures of my daughter doing all the things she needs to do in the morning before school, after school, and before bed. Now she follows along every day. It lets her be independent, but the things that I think are important are still getting done.”

Count to ten before liftoff. “You know how people always say that you should count to ten before you lose your temper?” says Clark. “I tell parents, as long as their child's not in danger, to count to ten before answering his cry of 'Help me! or ‘I can't!’ In that time, you may realize it's not necessary to rush in after all…or your child may decide he can actually do whatever it is that needs to be done all by himself.”