How Not To Be a Helicopter Parent

Mother and son

Helicopter parenting works. We just need to do it closer, deeper, better.

If I hear one more expert say that helicopter parents need to fly away, I'm going to scream.  No!!!! Helicopter parents are devoted, involved people, full of devotion, with an added boost of deep commitment and wellsprings of dedicated time. I love them. I am one.

I get it, that kids need to be left alone.  I get it that if we hover too closely in heightened states of anxiety and confusion, that we mess them up.  But this does not mean we should fly away.  It just means we have to improve the art of flying, to make sure we don't crash into things and create destruction.  Hey, we're new at this.  

What we have to do is learn to hover closer and deeper, actually getting under our children's skin where we can really have the best chance of influencing them.  Because I don't care what anybody says, we are the best thing that's ever happened to our child.  We want to get in as close as possible, and, since I've been doing this for 30 years, I'm going to show you how:

1.  Hover lower, and deeper

Let me repeat: you are the best thing that ever happened to your child. Nobody stands half a chance of knowing your child better than you do. 

But here's every parent's challenge: children don't talk.  They don't tell you their story.  They don't have the words or higher brain power for that. So you have to figure it out.

Why don't they tell you their story? Because if their story differs even one iota from yours, (like you want them to get straight A's but they actually don't like memorizing facts that much) they kind-of freak.  In my world, it's a called "intrapsychic conflict."  When kids are conflicted about their feelings, thoughts and actions, it messes them up.  They start getting headaches, missing school, acting weird and obnoxious.

So the next time you see negative behavior, think "intrapsychic conflict" and try to find their story.

2. Don't ask personal questions

You can't ask a kid to tell you their story.  You can't say "what is your intrapsychic conflict?'  That is like asking a baby to get dressed and go to work.

Instead, ask them about their friends.  "Does your friend like school?"  Or "Why doesn't your friend like Math?"  When kids talk about their friends, they are often talking about themselves.

You can also ask other kinds of impersonal questions.  LIke, "What do you think of your teacher?  Is she a dork?"  Or "What was the worst thing you had to sit through today?"  That's a little less personal than the generally over-personal questions parents ask like "tell me about yourself."  Forget that.

Or tell a story. Any story.  About a princess if you have a toddler, about something in the news if you have a teen.  Then, ask for commentary.  The story, if they're little, can include the dynamics at play.  Like about a little girl who only wants to eat sugar.  What should that princess do?  For a teen, it could be about an ethical dilemma, like about a whistle-blower.  Again, you are skirting around your kids' conception of themselves, keeping it neutral and light.  You can do the deep analysis later, when they chime in.

3.  Don't expect to like their story

Listen, the world has changed.  We are not raising kids to become like us anymore.  We are raising them to be individuals.  Because that is what the world needs. Creative innovators. 

So if you're going to find your child's story, you may not like it, because it may not be the story you want.  You may learn that your child hates school, has a mean-streak, never wanted a sibling, wants to become a low-paid performance artist or has fallen in love with the worst person in the world.  

Here's what you need to discover what your child's story is:  courage.  Hovering closer and deeper is not for the feint of heart. YOu need a lot of courage.  There is nothing more terrifying than the possibility that our child has a story we won't like.  It's the worst.

4. Become the wind beneath their sails

Once you have discovered what your child's story is, you give yourself a nice pat on the back, because here comes the hard part.  When your kid's story is what you want it to be, there's no problem expressing gratitude, admiration and support.  

But get a kid whose story is not that pleasing, it gets a little tough.  How do you support a kid that doesn't want to go to school? That experiments with drugs? That doesn't have any friends? That is getting mediocre grades? That is surly and nasty?

You just have to find their story and support them, that's all.  Think about Steven Spielberg, whose mother (mostly because it served her) let him stay home from school, and gave him a camera.  Yes! Wind beneath his sails!  

I knew a mother whose aggressive kid became a leader in business.  She always told him "You have amazing leadership energy.  It's hard being a leader when people get in your way.  It's frustrating. It will get easier."  Wind beneath his sails! She accepted him, and let him know he was OK.  

Another mother told her high-schooler "Stay home from school today.  Your life will get easier when you are doing work YOU want to do." Wind beneath the sails! She accepted her, and let her know she would be OK.

We may not always like or support our children's story, but we have to find a way to accept and build a story around them that is positive and that acts like wind beneath their sails.  In my world, that's called "supporting the ego."  When we allow our children to defend against things they can't deal with, and we build a story around them that is positive and understanding, trust me, they FLOURISH!


When you can get under your child's skin to discover and support their story, they're never alone.  They feel better, act better, and stand the best possible chance of reaching their full potential. Whatever you discover that potential to be.  I promise you, if you hover close and long enough, you will not only discover your child's and learn how to develop it, but you will also be loved, cherished and have tremendous intimacy with that child. Which is really what our hovering is all about.