November 15, 2015
Online Journal - WORKING WITH "HELICOPTER PARENTS"
Janice Maitland, Associate Superintendent, Ontario Conference, Oshawa, ON

According to Wikipedia, a helicopter parent “is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions... they hover overhead.”  They are involved in their child’s life in an overcontrolling and overprotective way.  This trend is also sometimes called “over-parenting”
 
Every school wants to have children whose parents show definite interest in their children’s school program, particularly in the areas of curriculum and, in the case of Adventist Schools, spiritual growth.  However, inasmuch as principals and teachers appreciate having parents attend parent-teacher conferences as well as school programs and extracurricular activities, parents that are overbearing tend to stifle their children’s academic, social and emotional growth and development.  It is a fact, by observation as well as well documented research, that children whose parents demonstrate interest in their children’s progress and some level of partnership with their teachers, are the ones who typically respond with obvious growth to varying degrees.
 
Many teachers, wanting to encourage partnership between themselves and parents by keeping in touch with them and show interest in their children’s development, share telephone numbers and emails with them.  Some schools even give access to online viewing so parents can see their children’s record of assignments given and assignments completed along with percentage averages or grades.
 
According to Education Update, February 2015, a 2013 scholastic survey of 20,000 teachers revealed that 95 percent said they encourage parents to reach out to them.  Respondents agreed that parents can best support their children by 1) making sure they attend school, 2) working collaboratively with the teacher when academic or behavior issues arise, and 3) setting high expectations.
 
Andrew Winter, principal of the Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville, Md., states that some parents are “overanxious” to volunteer every day in their child’s classroom.  Winter believes that this can be a challenge with a class of at least 25 children while one is “trying to balance the competing priorities of other parents.”  In order to get to the root of overparenting, Winter recommends asking the following questions:  “Are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing with interventions and supports?  What are we not providing that they are looking for?  What can we do that’s reasonable so parents feel like they’re being heard?  In addition, Winter believes that clear communication—on both ends—can be the equalizer.
 
In response to Starr and Dweck’s research which suggests that children who are praised for success may eventually see struggle as a weakness, former middle school principal Cathy Vatterott says that “much more parent education is needed on the concept of struggle.”  Vatterott begged parents not to drop everything for their kids because if they want their child to be responsible, they have to let him see the consequences of forgetting his gym clothes or lunch.
 
Parents also have their struggle—that of “giving up the reins.”  It is a definite challenge to gradually release responsibility because of the length of time they have been in control; and after all, they want the best for their child.  Reducing the control over a child is not about allowing the child to go free without any restrictions, limits or parameters because the fact is, children feel safer with limits despite the appearance of their feeling boxed in and imprisoned.  Vatterott admits, “I wish they told me that by overhelping my child, I was making him feel like he couldn’t do it by himself.  I was contributing to his feelings of incompetence ... of him not feeling like he could trust himself.”  Vatterott adds that as parents “we feel it is our job to help our kids, but we get a little confused about what help is.”
 
Finally, according to Sarah McKibben, managing editor of Education Update the following tips can be helpful in working with Helicopter Parents:
 
  1. Label Less (there are many theories about the right balance of parental involvement) 
  2. Remember that when parents hear only their child’s side of a story, they tend to think that their House is on Fire;
  3. Organizational Principles should be Audited to determine whether or not the school is meeting the needs of all parents—from overinvolved to under involved
  4. Talk about Grit with parents—They need to focus on making the goal of student autonomy clear
  5. The school needs to Rethink Homework re parents’ roles (according to Scholastic survey, the majority of schools would prefer to have parents check that homework is completed rather than help their children with their homework)
  6. Give the parent the benefit of the doubt (they just want to feel that they are not abdicating their parental responsibility)

References

“Helicopter Parent” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Oct. 2015. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
 
McKibben, S. (2015).  On Board with Helicopter Parents.  Education Update,   57(2), 1, 4-5.