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.

Sibling Rivalry and Bullying: Parents Have More Influence Than They Think

image: Mindaugas Danys, Flickr. CC license.

You hear the scream from the other room and run in to find one kid crying and the other child holding a treasured toy. The accusations and explanations fly back and forth while the tears flow. After a few minutes you realize you’ll never really know the whole story so you:

  1. Take the treasured toy away for a while so it’s not a source of conflict.
  2. Give both the kids a time-out since they need to be separated for a while to cool off.
  3. Throw up your hands and go cry in the other room since this is the fourth time today you’ve had to mediate a dispute.
  4. Yell at the kids since you are so frustrated that they can’t share and get along.

Sound familiar?

Every parent with more than one child is faced with sibling disputes all the time. Whether its toy stealing, physical stuff like pushing/poking, or verbal trash talk that drives the sibling to anger or tears, sibling rivalry is a feature in every family at one time or another. Understanding what drives the behavior will help parents address it appropriately.

Sibling rivalry

Sibling rivalry is triggered for a reason. The child who is acting out wants or needs something. Sometimes he is looking for a parent’s attention. Sometimes she is looking to cure boredom, and sometimes they are looking to get a reaction from their sibling. Figuring out which is the main trigger is very important as it will guide the intervention.

Young children under 5, who are arguing with their siblings, are almost always looking for parental attention. If you really think about it, they aren’t getting any “joy” per se out of their sibling’s reaction but will amp up the behavior if you don’t intervene. They want you. If you don’t run in, the screams get louder and the tussling gets more pronounced.

Another sign that kids are looking for your attention rather than the sibling’s is when they look over at you for your reaction when they are about to do something to their brother or are in the middle of the fight with their sister. They are less engaged with each other than they are interested in your response. A sure sign that the interaction is all about you!

The challenge is realizing that by paying attention to these little scuffles you are reinforcing them and creating a pattern of behavior between the children that can lead to bigger issues down the road. With young children, often ignoring your children’s interactions rather than negotiating, punishing them, or trying to play referee can allow them to work things out on their own and prevent you from become the object of their attention.

The time to help teach children how to negotiate with each other, share well, and be kind is when you are playing with them, not by intervening when they are arguing on their own. Comment on and model these behaviors with your children when you are playing together. You can even role play and practice what to do when you are upset when they aren’t mad; you can give them tools to use at other times.

Another strategy that works well with kids of all ages is to be a play-by-play announcer when you see something happening between your children. Sometimes you don’t want to ignore what you see but know you shouldn’t solve the problem for them. Instead, by describing what you see (the actions and the feelings), you give voice to both of the children in the scuffle and allow them to work things out themselves, perhaps even seeing the other child’s point of view. Here’s an example: You walk in and find 4-year-old, Joey, holding the 2-year-old’s, Jimmy, favorite stuffed animal and he’s crying. Say something like: “Jimmy, you sure seem sad and mad. Joey, you’re holding Jimmy’s best friend. He seems sad and upset. Jimmy is reaching for the toy. Joey, you are keeping it from him. That seems to be making Jimmy even more sad and upset. What are you both going to do?” and then walk away.

When rivalry becomes bullying

As children get older, sometimes what may have started off as an attempt to get the parent’s attention has turned into something more. One sibling has begun to enjoy the “rise” she gets out of the other. Instead of wanting to get the parent’s attention, now the child enjoys the emotional drama that the sibling shows when verbally triggered or egged on in other ways. When this sort of behavior occurs, it can become more serious and, if frequent and unchecked, it is no different than bullying in any other environment.

Most children wouldn’t want to think of themselves as bullies or be labeled as such, but somehow bullying behavior at home isn’t thought of in the same way. Parents have a responsibility to intervene differently when they start to see behaviors that are targeted, affect self-esteem, are power/dominance driven (regardless of which child is older), and persistent. Ignoring these sorts of exchanges can lead to an aggressor-victim dyad in the family that can persist for a lifetime. If one sibling consistently taunts (especially when the verbal taunting is personal and drives the other child to feel insecure or inadequate), intervention is required. Managing both the bully and the bullied in this scenario is key. Both parties are fragile and need support. Bullies often lack self-esteem, are anxious or depressed, or are looking to get attention in unhealthy ways. Getting them help is essential. The child who is being bullied needs strategies to disengage, as well as support to feel secure and safe at home. This last bit can be challenging since the child was the victim of bullying in the place that should feel the safest.

Many parents downplay sibling bullying. “Kids will be kids.” “All kids fight.”
You have to develop a thick skin.” “Siblings will always be meanest to each other.” All of these are examples of things parents say to themselves. And the occasional argument between siblings is normal. But when these interactions become taunting, physically targeted, humiliating, or dehumanizing, it is not normal anymore and intervention is necessary.

The relationships within our family are the best practice we have for relationships in the rest of our life. How we learn to talk to each other and treat each other is the key to our success in friendships, work relationships, love affairs, and as parents later. Teaching your child how to solve his or hew own problems through proper attention to the stuff that matters, ignoring the stuff that doesn’t, creating a culture of positivity in your home, and intervening early if any sign of bullying rears its ugly head is the key to raising kids who will be friends for a lifetime.

– Dr. Molly O’Shea, a board-certified Beaumont pediatrician, offers traditional medicine in non-traditional ways including newborn home visits and emailing parents directly. She has practiced pediatrics for nearly 30 years and was the “Ask the Pediatrician” columnist for the Detroit News for many years. A journal editor for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she also organized the AAP’s national continuing education programming for pediatricians. Dr. Molly loves cooking, traveling and spending time with her family.

My daughter dresses in boy clothes, so what?

As much as I talk about my son, I’d like to share a story about my daughter.

I don’t talk about her much, she seems to get overshadowed by her brother a lot. But she’s funny, brilliant, kind and awesome. She also prefers to shop on the “boy” side of the clothing store.

Nothing wrong with that. I don’t mind. It’s actually pretty nice, not having to look for age-appropriate styles through piles of tacky, overdone clothing. “Boy” clothes are generally simple: shirt, pants with proper coverage.

She does get mistaken for a boy a lot. Her blonde hair is cut in a chin-length bob, plus her skinny frame with “boy” clothes and she’s called “buddy” and “dude” a few times a week. She does fine with these comments, but at school, it hurts. She’s very frustrated with the kids who know she’s a girl, but still ask her gender anyway.

At age 7, I don’t understand why gender matters so much. They’re basically babies still, just learning social rules. There’s nothing sexual about being 7 years old. But kids, and some adults, still ask as if it’s even important.

Sadly, I’d be lying if I said I was immediately fine with her “boy” clothes. I never told her she can’t have the clothes she wants, never made her feel bad about shopping where she’s comfortable. But I have mom guilt. I feel guilty for being a bit sad that I don’t shop with her on the “girl” side of the store. I was sad that my head built the idea of having a daughter with bows and dresses and instead I have a daughter who prefers polo shirts and cargo shorts. It’s almost as if I’m mourning for an idea.

Isn’t that awful of me?

But I’m determined to be a better mom about this and because of her, I wanted to share this story with you to show you how important it is to children to just be accepted and loved.

I bought both kids new pajamas from Costco recently. My son’s had bulldozers on them and my daughter’s had dinosaurs. I picked the dinosaurs because the only other option was unicorns and that’s just not her style. Besides, who doesn’t like dinosaurs?

When she saw them in her room, she began pulling the tags off immediately. Then she stopped and asked where I got them. I told her Costco. Excitedly, she told me the tags say, “kids pajamas,” not “boy pajamas” or “girl pajamas.” Because that means these pajamas are for everyone.

I told you she’s brilliant.

Kid pajamas. Two words made the difference to her. I wish there was a way to make you feel the way she did when she read those tags. I also wish there was a way to let you feel the warm relief I felt when I saw her so happy about the tags on her jammies.

Two words. So simple. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins, and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Self-care While Taking Care of Baby

image: Madison Inouye, Pexels.

The first days with your new baby are wonderful, exciting and rewarding, but can also be some of the most uncertain, scary and challenging. As taking care of your little one takes the forefront, self-care often moves to the back burner. In the first 11 months with my daughter, I learned that life with baby looks very different than it did before and I’m working on integrating quick self-care into my life. Here are six quick tips for integrating self-care into your routine while taking care of your little one:

  1. Take a shower or bath.
    • This one seems so simple, yet it can be incredibly difficult to actually fit one in with attending your baby’s needs around the clock. I tend to feel like a new woman after a hot shower, even if it’s a quick one.
  2. Get outside!
    • If the weather allows, take some time outside for fresh air. Take a walk to the mailbox or around the house if you’re not able to make it to a destination spot. Even 10 minutes makes a big difference. Your baby will appreciate it, too.
  3. Connect with friends.
    • Though some existing friendships may change post-baby, others may strengthen, and new ones may form. Parenting on an island is tough; the phrase “It takes a village” came about for a reason! Having someone close to confide in helps, no matter what season of life your baby is in. The Beaumont Parenting Program can be a great way to forge new friendships with parents of children close in age with yours!
  4. Think about what you loved to do pre-baby. If it’s possible, work that back into your life, even if it’s “baby” steps.
    • Time at the gym may be tough to do now, but a good start may be to take your baby for a walk in the park. If you liked reading previously, join a book club and try to get in 10 minutes of reading before bed. Though it can be challenging to do as much or in the same way as before baby, it helps for self-care and love!
  5. Date night (or day!)
    • Time out with your partner can also go on the back burner once your bundle of joy arrives. When you feel comfortable leaving your little one in the hands of a trusted friend or family member for a couple of hours, make time for a date night. If possible, I found that one of these a month can make a big difference! Although your beloved baby may be front-of-mind, try to talk about other topics with your partner.
  6. Make a solo errands run.
    • A quick hour with both hands to run errands can be refreshing, too. Once in awhile, I find an errands run by myself is very helpful for self-care. At the same time, it helps check some things off your to-do list!

What are some of the self-care tips you have for new parents? Share them below!

– Kylie Coury is a Parenting Program volunteer with a 1-year-old daughter and another baby on the way. She enjoys time with her husband and little one, and has appreciated all of the new connections and adventures in this season of life.