Helicopter parenting — hovering, smothering and generally not allowing a child to take on responsibility for life's experiences — is once again getting a bad rap.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that over-controlling parenting leads to a child's inability to manage his or her emotions and behavior. Researchers published their findings in a study in Developmental Psychology

Helicopter kids struggle in school

"Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment," said lead study author Nicole B. Perry. "Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school."   

Researchers found that the more children were coddled early in life, the more likely they struggled in school and with making friends. 

That's because "managing emotions and behavior are fundamental skills that all children need to learn" and when parents interfere, children miss those opportunities, Perry said. 

“Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding,” said Perry. “The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration.” 

Parents: Do this, not that

Perry suggested that parents with helicopter tendencies can still be there for their children.

But instead of swooping in to tell kids how to feel, she advised that they help their children learn to control their emotions by talking with them about their feelings and the consequences of their responses. 

Then parents can help their children identify positive coping strategies like deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.

"Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children’s autonomy with handling emotional challenges,” Perry said.

Research showed that children who learned to keep their emotions in check by age 5 were less likely to have emotional and behavior problems at age 10. Those kids also did better in school and had fewer social and emotional problems. 

More about the study 

Researchers followed the same 422 U.S. children at ages 2, 5 and 10 over an 8-year period. The children were predominantly white and African-American and from diverse economic backgrounds.

The researchers also observed parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds.

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