How to Not be a Helicopter Parent (But Still Stay in the Airport)

Children these days live in worlds that are highly structured and overscheduled. Whether it is playdates, schoolwork, clubs, sports, or volunteer work, life gets busy very quickly and parents become full-time administrative assistants to make sure everything gets done. Well-meaning parents can take over many aspects of their children’s lives because the intent is to keep their children “on course”. This makes sense in theory, but in the long run, it does not help children learn the skills they need to be successful as adults. These skills include organization, delayed gratification, autonomy/responsibility, initiative, accepting disappointment, and reformulating a plan.

So what does it mean to be a “helicopter parent”? In short, it means that the parent is overly involved in the child’s life; the parent does not let the child learn from their mistakes or from normal childhood experiences. For example, they may take on their child’s school projects, argues with teachers/professors about grades, and choose their child’s college.

There are certainly times when it makes sense for parents to take control of situations and monitor them closely, especially in cases of safety or age-appropriateness. Obviously, the first time you let your child drive a car by himself, you would have some rules and limits around that activity. Or when children have a cell phone for the first time, you would have some boundaries regarding when or where they can use their phones. For younger children, you would monitor them getting used to doing chores around the house. 

For situations that don’t necessarily fall in those categories, here are some specific examples of ways to not be a helicopter parent, but “stay in the airport”:

  • Fostering self-esteem. Make it clear that you love and value your child, even when he/she has misbehaved (“I’m very disappointed in what you’ve done, but I still love you very much.” “That homework looks challenging, but I am proud of you for doing your best.”). Model good self-esteem and healthy habits for your child.
  • Self-regulation. It can be tempting to jump in and fix situations, but children find it most helpful when parents listen, validate their concerns, and offer assistance only when needed and in a way that the child will find helpful (“Those kids were really mean. It’s natural you would feel embarrassed about what they said. Is there something that I can do?”)
  • Delayed gratification. Teach your children the value of time and money, the satisfaction of achieving something through hard work, and the importance of planning ahead. Some practical examples include:
    • When you child wants to meet friends at the mall, don’t drop everything to be the chauffeur. Ask your child to schedule things in advance with you.
    • For activities (sports or otherwise), ask your child to choose carefully and stick with the activity for the duration to keep their word.
    • When buying clothes or toys, consider asking your child to “pay” a portion of the item from his allowance, time doing chores, or from their salary if they are old enough to work.
  • Social skills. The transition from elementary school to middle school (and from middle to high school) can be challenging when it comes to making sure that your child is socializing with positive individuals and making positive choices. To give your child the opportunity to make their own choices, parents and children benefit from having regular conversations about their friend group. Parents also get great clues about concerns this way.
    • Know the names of your child’s friends.
    • Listen to the stories that they tell you about their friends (even when you would rather listen to anything else).
    • Ask your child what they enjoy about their individual friends (“You talk about Kaitlin every day, what do you like about her? What do you dislike about her?”).

      If your child is socializing with someone who isn’t making good choices, it’s important to find out what is drawing your child closer to that person. Sometimes kids start hanging out with someone because that person seems to get attention, even when it is negative. Sometimes kids start hanging out with someone because they feel like they belong and fit in with a group, even when it is negative. In these cases – as tempting as it may be to forbid your child from associating with someone – let your child make the decision so they can learn from the consequences. When parents make the decision, children don’t learn the skill of decision-making. It is also important for children to understand the definition of “friend,” which is another great conversation for parents to have with kids. One way of doing this (without it being too much like a counseling session) is to watch one of your child’s favorite TV shows together then ask them which relationships are positive and why, and which ones are negative and why. Remember, you’ve been teaching your child positive values since they were young. As they get older, this is the time you get to see if they were listening or if they need some refresher courses on what they have learned.

It is important to remember that changes may not be immediately apparent, so be patient. Changes take time. Negative behavior may escalate in the short term as your child may try to see if they can persuade you to give in. Stay firm and consistent and before you know it, you will see responsible and independent young individuals right before your eyes. And maybe you will get to go on a beach vacation with that helicopter that you won’t have to use anymore.

– Tobi Russell LPC, CAADC, CCS-M, BCETS, is director of a counseling service in Rochester Hills, Mich.

Potty Training: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

image: Todd Morris, Flickr. CC license.

After many years of diapers in my house, I now have three potty-trained kids. As my family celebrated this milestone, it dawned on me that each of my children potty trained differently. All three children became successful in accomplishing this milestone in their own time and at different stages; the only common factor was that they all reached that success when they were ready. So, while every child is unique, read on below to find some helpful tips I learned throughout this process.

Potty training readiness

Most children will show signs of potty-training readiness somewhere between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old. Even if kids show a lot of signs at 18 months, it is unlikely that they will have the bladder or bowel control to be successful. I recommend waiting until age 2 to begin the process and look for some of the signs below.

  • Child lets the caregiver know that the diaper needs to be changed.
  • Child goes to another room or location to have a bowel movement.
  • Child can pull pants up and down.
  • Child shows an interest in wearing underwear.
  • Child uses the potty consistently at a set time of day.
  • Child wakes up from naps or overnight sleep with a dry diaper.
  • Child goes several hours during the day with dry diapers.
  • Child has bowel movements at a similar time each day.

Technique

Because every child is unique, there is no specific technique for potty training that works for all children, but here are a few recommendations for approaching potty training.

  • Stock up on potty-training essentials when the child begins showing signs of readiness so that you are prepared if they suddenly decide they are done with diapers.
    • Two packages of underwear
    • Small potty (It is preferable for kids to be able to place their feet on a flat surface while learning to use the potty. Also, it is helpful to be able to move the potty if needed).
    • Depending on the child’s attention span, some small toys that stay in the bathroom may be helpful for learning to have bowel movements in the potty.
    • Small incentives
      • Stickers
      • Small candies
    • Empower your child
      • Let your child be a part of the decision when to start, and if possible, let him or her decide.
      • Let your child do as much as possible without assistance. Ask your child if you can help him or her before automatically doing it. This approach may get a little messy but in the long run it is very helpful.
      • Instead of rushing a child to the bathroom if an accident looks evident, rush the potty to the child.
      • If the child is in a bed at naptime, leave a small potty in the child’s room and remind them that it’s OK if they need to use it.
    • Stay positive and be consistent while still being flexible.
      • Offer immediate praise for any amount of success, even if it’s just that the child made it to the bathroom but not the toilet.
      • Give gentle reminders with praise if needed.
      • Avoid constant reminders as it can create anxiety.
      • Consider avoiding pull-ups or training pants. It’s good to fully commit to potty training and try to be home for the first day if possible. Switching between pull-ups and underwear can be confusing for kids.
      • Be willing to give up and try at a later date if it’s too stressful.
      • Have an open dialogue with your child throughout the process.

Nighttime potty training

Some kids are able to accomplish nighttime training simultaneously with daytime training, but other kids may need to be fully successful with daytime training before they can accomplish nighttime dryness. Also, some kids may be fully daytime trained years before they have the bladder control to stay dry at night. Here are some tips on nighttime potty training.

  • Have children use the bathroom as the very last step of their bedtime routine.
  • Consider whether your child is constipated; increase fiber if so. Constipation can add pressure to the bladder and can play a role in nighttime wetting.
  • If you’re unable to nighttime train, use pull-ups just for the night.
  • Nighttime wetting may occur until kids are 7 years old. If your child is still wet at night after age 7, notify your pediatrician.

Potty-training resistance

If you’ve been trying for a while and giving up is not an option, here are a few helpful tips.

  • Look for patterns when accidents are occurring and try to make a schedule. Write the schedule out and turn it into a sticker chart. Have a very manageable, immediate goal rewarded with an incentive picked out by the child and another goal to work toward at the end of the week with a different incentive, then a two-week goal and a four-week goal.
  • Let the child be responsible for cleaning up after him/herself if possible.
  • Read about it! There are many great potty-training books designed for kids and keeping them in the bathroom is a good idea. A favorite in our house is “Everyone Poops” by Taro Gomi.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C has a background in pediatrics and volunteers with the Beaumont Parenting Program. She is the mother of three young children.

The Calm Before the Storm: Parenting My Anxious Child

image: Tobias Wahlqvist, Pixabay.

The call always and only comes on Monday mornings. The school counselor assures me it’s never an emergency. There’s just a teary boy on the other end missing his mom. And he’s worried. Worried that something is going to happen to me when he’s at school.

And occasionally, the worry storm starts brewing Sunday nights as the end of the weekend starts to draw near. And he can’t articulate why he’s crying, but he knows he feels worried about being at school the next day and that something might happen to me.

His worry is not founded on any truth. Nothing has ever happened to me while he’s been at school. But that’s beside the point. Any parent of an anxious child knows too well that the rational brain is not in charge of the worrying one, and that all the reassurance in the world just isn’t enough to calm it down.

And so, the therapist had to become the client. And with courage and a lot of patience, I built a small toolkit of strategies that I know he responds to because lately, I’m not getting any Monday calls. And Sunday evening storms aren’t passing over our house for the time being.

  • My mantra: You have to push through it to get out of it.

The hardest part of the Monday calls are balancing his need for reassurance that I’m OK with my desire to get him back into his day. But the key for me is always to get him back into his day because the more he practices pushing through the uncomfortable feelings, the more confident he becomes in his abilities to self-manage when he feels anxious.

  • His mantra: You got this!

Self-talk is a powerful way for him to recruit his inner resources.

  • A “coping” card

On an index card, we made a list of all the things he can think about when he starts to worry about me. This process helps him counter that worry thought with more comforting and productive thoughts like, “Nothing has ever happened to mom when I’ve been at school so she’ll probably be fine,” or “I can’t wait to see her when I get off the bus.” He keeps this card tucked away in his backpack so he can look at it when he’s at school.

  • Model confidence.

I try to counter his worry voice with a calm and confident response. I don’t want to feed his anxiety with mine. In this way, I am sending him the message that I believe he can handle this (even when I am dying inside!).

Parenting an anxious child can be really hard. But if we can remind ourselves of the influence we have in this space before the storm hits, it will help us feel empowered in a situation that often feels so out of our control.

– Andree Palmgren, LPC, is a therapist with a private practice in Westport, CT and is a parent to 4 kids ages 16, 14, 11 and 7.

Summertime language activities for children and their families

image credit: Personal Creations, Flickr. CC license.

Summer doesn’t mean you have to take a break from stimulating speech and language skills with your children. There are still many opportunities to enrich communication skills. From trips to the zoo, waterpark or beach, to camping and other family vacations, you’ll have plenty to talk about. Here are some suggestions for incorporating language into your fun summer plans.

Schedule play dates with friends and classmates. Play dates foster peer interaction, play, functional communication, and social skills. Offer a few summer activities (bubbles, sand toys, swings) and encourage conversation/interaction. Later, ask open-ended questions about what happened, who was there, and other details.

Plan a day trip. Take a trip to the beach, park, museum, amusement park, or zoo. Providing your child with a variety of experiences gives them a broader vocabulary base and builds connections to stories and books they may read. While planning for the trip, talk about what you need to pack for the trip. After the trip, tell the story of what you did that day. Check online for nearby family-friendly activities and discounts.

Go for a walk. As you walk with your child, encourage conversation by asking open-ended questions (e.g., What do you like to do outside?). Make observations and comment on what you see around you (e.g., I see a blue bird flying in the sky), while encouraging your child to do the same. Or try an “I Spy” game to focus on inference skills by describing items and having your child guess what you see.

Make a snack together. Cooking and baking create natural opportunities to practice following directions. Together, check the ingredients list and create a shopping list. While shopping, discuss what you will buy, how many you need, and what you will make. Talk about the size (large or small), shape (long, round, square), and weight (heavy or light) of the packages and where you put them (in the cart, on, under, above the grocery cart). Then get to cooking! After the snack is made, have your child describe what they made. Take it a step further and see if your child can remember and retell all the steps in the process.

Read. Reading with your child is one of the best activities you can do to promote language and literacy skills. While reading, ask your child different “wh” questions related to the story (e.g., Why is he sad? What do you think is going to happen? Where are they?). Visit the local library to check out new books.

Host a scavenger hunt. Work with your child to write clues and create maps for participants to find the items. While writing the clues together, work on sentence formation and vocabulary development. To target a specific articulation sound, think of items that start or end with that sound. Completing the scavenger hunt targets critical thinking skills and following directions.

Camp in the backyard. Set up the tent with your child, tell campfire stories and make s’mores. Not only is this activity so much fun, but it targets narrative skills, imaginative play, and following directions.

Have a game night. Board games, charades, bingo and card games are very interactive and fun. Most games can have multiple players at a time so invite over the neighbor kids for some laughs! Games encourage turn taking, social skills, rule-following and understanding directions.

What are your favorite summertime activities, and how do you incorporate learning during while the children are not in school?

– Alexandra Barman, M.A., CF-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Fun ideas to help your child unplug this summer

Summer is the perfect time for kids to get outside and play. However, many children turn to computers, televisions and tablets for entertainment rather than their imagination or creativity. While apps, games and shows can be entertaining and keep the kids occupied, it’s important to continue to foster development of other skills without digital assistance.

Here are a few suggestions to keep your child unplugged for the summer:

  • Books
    • Reading helps expand vocabulary, problem solving, inferencing and comprehension abilities. It also aids development of creativity and imagination when children envision the story taking place.
    • Encourage leisure reading with a sticker reward chart. Have your child work towards a special reward like going out to eat at their favorite restaurant, having a movie night, camping in the backyard, making a special dessert or snack, or even earning time with their desired electronic.
    • Set aside time to read with your child. Pick a more advanced chapter book and spend 30 minutes each day reading a chapter together.
    • Plan quiet reading time outside in a hammock, on a blanket or in a tent/fort.
  • Activity books
    • Help kids use logic, reasoning and imagination in a fun way through activity books!
    • Examples include mazes, hidden picture books, sticker books, dot-to-dots, paint by numbers, student workbooks (Kumon or Brainquest), and coloring books.
  • Art
    • Pick a different art activity each day or week to stimulate creativity. Use different types of paper (e.g., construction, tissue, foam, felt, etc.) and different art mediums (e.g., markers, crayons, colored pencils, paint, glue, Play-Doh, etc.) to keep the activities interesting and fun.
  • Games
    • Single-person games are a great way to promote use of logic and reasoning.
    • Examples: jigsaw puzzles, Perplexus, IQ Fit, Gravity Maze, Suspend Game, solitaire, Rush Hour, Scrabble Flash, Mighty Mind, Rory’s Story Cubes, Logic Links, Laser Maze, Circuit Maze, Katamino, Swish, Pathwords, Find It.
  • Sports/Games
    • Introduce your child to new and different outdoor sports and games. These are great for fine and gross motor development.
    • Examples: soccer, basketball, baseball/T-ball, tennis, ladder golf, croquet, Washers, corn hole, hopscotch, bowling.
  • Toys
    • Toys are a great way for kids to learn to entertain themselves and use their imaginations through pretend play.
    • In order to keep toys interesting, set aside specific times during the day to play with these special items. You could also set up a toy swap with a neighbor if your child loses interest in the toys you currently own.
    • Examples: stuffed animals, dolls, race cars, marble tower/track, Silly Putty, wood pattern blocks, puzzles, sensory bins.

Samantha Bailey-Crow, MA, CCC-SLP, is supervisor of Pediatric Rehabilitation at the Center for Exceptional Families, Beaumont Health