Are You a ‘Helicopter Parent’? 10 Tips for Supporting Your Children Without Hovering

The first time I heard the term “helicopter parent” I was sitting on my friend’s houseboat. She was describing her sister-in-law.

“What is a helicopter parent?” I asked. Barb, my friend, stood up, rotated her arms and made a buzzing sound. She told me that unlike her, her sister-in-law helped manage her son’s college application process. He was slated to attend Yale in the fall.

“Hum,” I pondered to myself, “Is there really something wrong with that?”

There is a crisis in the parenting process. If a parent is over attentive in the educational and social lives of their children, they may very well be termed “helicopter parents.” They hover.

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Naturally, there is also a contrary view that dictates; for parents to raise “independent” children, they have to step back, allow the child to flounder and let the child gain footing on their own. This will make them stronger, more independent.

Is it really about the hovering? Is it really about letting go so dramatically? I would like to suggest that it is more about the landing. From latchkey to helicopter, to stepping back, what will be next? How about presence? Being present for your child gives them the support they need without the intrusion.

Parents who stay attuned to their children know when they are happy, sad, frustrated, angry. They know when and how to interfere and when to back off. They naturally know when the child is developmentally prepared for whatever challenge he or she is facing. But, over-managing or leaving a child alone to figure out many of life’s challenges is a mistake. There is a right time to trust your child to face these challenges and that is when she has the resources available to do so successfully.

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Mistreated by a teacher? Choosing the right college essay? Losing a friend? Being picked on in class? Not getting the grade they deserve? Leave them alone, and what do they learn in the process? It was “my fault,” “I chose the wrong one, I am not worthy, I am not good enough.” A present parent can stay in the background until it is time to lend support. They can step forward and teach their children to stand up for themselves, take responsibility, and self advocate. Children need role models; they need guides. They need present parents.

Make a soft landing. Don’t take over the airspace. Suggest a ride. Show perspective. Offer the long view. But be there when you are needed and take off when you are not. No need to hover, because presence allows you to “know” even when you are miles away.

Your child, when basking in your presence will pull you closer when they need something from you and push you away when they need the space to breathe. We do not have to know ahead of time, when and how to support them, nor do they. By being present, we teach them in every moment how to utilize us as the resource that we are. In one moment we are usable, the next, disposable.

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Ten Tips for the Hovercraft:

  1. Do not lean into a situation unless you are invited: Stay present, stay available, stay supportive.
  2. Do not take the air out of the moment. Do not deflate a shared opportunity.
  3. Let your child stumble; let your child excel. See their path as separate from your own.
  4. Lend a hand when needed, not when you decide the time is right.
  5. Empower your child by not taking control. Stay in the shadows; shine light when you are asked.
  6. Give your children the necessary tools to be successful. Do not mix up their success or failure with your own.
  7. When you are needed, be a witness and a mirror as much as a troubleshooter and problem solver.
  8. Offer the long view; yet, understand that your child’s perspective is quite myopic.
  9. Show patience.
  10. Stay attuned.

There is one catch; however, we must be willing to trust them: their voice, their emotions, their call to come closer, their demand that we pull back. We have to know where to land and as we listen, we hear them whisper, “here.”


{Image credit: Pixabay}

About the Author

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Dr. Timothy Dukes consults with senior leaders and teams, established business owners, political and organizational visionaries, emerging innovators, entrepreneurs, and artists to bridge the worlds of dynamic opposition. He is a very present father, a psychologist of over 25 years and the author of “The Present Parent Toolkit” (2017). He lives in California with his wife, Sally, an editor, writer and psychotherapist. Learn more at

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