Here are 6 DON’Ts when it comes to over-worrying, over-focusing on your child and being a helicopter parent:
1. Don’t hover over your child. Don’t tie your 5-year-old’s shoes when she can tie her own, or dress her when she can dress herself. Avoid hovering and holding her back from normal “risks” a child would take at her age level. It’s also not a good idea to talk to her teachers incessantly, or answer all your child’s questions so she doesn’t have to think of answers for herself. If she hesitates to make her own decisions, try not to jump in and do it for her—let her reason it out on her own if she can. Allow her to feel discomfort or pain; it’s part of growing up. Don’t prevent her from struggling or rescue her from life’s hardships. Kids can’t learn if their parents are always doing it for them.
2. Don’t put your worry on your child’s back. Don’t focus on your child morning, noon and night, imagining all the worst outcomes. Let go of negative thoughts about her future, like, “What if she doesn’t amount to anything when she grows up? Is her shyness a sign of her lack of confidence?” Don’t interrogate her when you get anxious, and keep asking, “Are you okay? “ “Are you sure?” Or “That looks difficult. Are you sure you can handle that?” Or “Do you have anyone to play with at recess? Who?” Don’t look for evidence to confirm your worst fears about your child.
3. Don’t make your child the center of your universe. Don’t try to get all your emotional needs met by your child. If you’re there at his beck-and-call and over-functioning for him (in other words, doing for him what he can do for himself), he’ll have a hard time functioning on his own in the world. Most importantly, don’t allow his achievements to determine your self-worth and validation as a parent.
4. Don’t label your child. Negatively (or even positively) labeling your child is not a good idea, because it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, or push her into a box that isn’t right for her. Don’t remind one of your kids that she is “the pretty one” or “the funny one” or “the lazy one” or “the one who will turn out just like Dad.” Avoid saying, “You never…” or “You always…” Let go of deciding now who your child is or will become; nobody knows yet, not even your child. Allow yourself to imagine other possibilities. The bottom line is that words are powerful, so don’t make negative predictions about what your child will become.
5. Don’t take it personally if your child doesn’t agree with you, or does things differently from you. If you get in your child’s head, he won’t be able to hear his own thoughts and beliefs. Even if he thinks differently than you, don’t argue with him over it—instead, invite him to tell you more. Don’t shut him down when he has ideas or opinions that are different from the ones you would like him to have, or insist on having the last word. And finally, try not to take things personally if he chooses a different path in life than the one you thought he would take.
6. Don’t focus on your child as a way of not having to deal with your own struggles. This is a big one, and can be very hard for parents. Try not to get so involved in your child’s life that you neglect your own. Don’t think or worry about your child so much that you avoid thinking about your own life, your work or your adult relationships. What I often say to parents is, “Don’t focus so much on taking care of your child’s garden that you forget to tend to your own.”
What’s a better approach? Let your child experience the consequences of his actions. Let go of constant worry as a parent, and realize you can’t control everything your kids do—you can only respond to how they behave. Try to see their strengths as well as their struggles. You can avoid over-worrying and being a helicopter parent if you work on developing strong relationships with your children by getting to know them for who they are. Allow them to make their own mistakes, face their own consequences, and solve their own problems. This will allow you to let go of hovering, doing too much for your kids and worrying about them all the time, and best of all, it will help you become a calmer, more peaceful parent.