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.

Digital diet for your family

little boy using phone

Children are growing up in media-rich environments that include television, computers, phones, tablets, video games, and other mobile devices. Although these technologies open doors to a wide range of education and fun, there are risks associated with overuse, especially for young children.

Researchers found that increases in media use during childhood led to increases in BMI; fewer minutes of sleep per night; delays in cognitive, language, and social development; and poorer executive functioning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than 18 to 24 months have no screen time at all. At around 18 months, the possible exception becomes video chatting with relatives and friends. From about 1½ to 5 years, the AAP recommends allowing no more than one hour of screen time. After age 5, the recommendation is that screen time decisions be made factoring in the educational value and interactive quality of the activities, and that screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep or exercise.

Under the age of 2 years, children’s brains are developing fast. They need communication, hands-on exploration, and social interactions to help develop cognitive, language, motor, social and emotional skills. They are not able to generalize images from a TV or iPad to a real-life experience.

Preschool-age children are developing higher-level skills, including task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking. These skills are best taught through unstructured play and parent-child interactions.

Remember that all children are learning from their family members’ examples, so think about your own screen use. Increased use of mobile devices by parents is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions with their children. Over 40 percent of parents report that their children ask them to put down their devices, and about half indicate that screen time takes time away from reading and other activities.

Of course, tablets and phones are a good way to calm your child in the airport or while checking out at a store, but try to avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Finding the right balance of real-life interactions and technology is important for children to learn and grow.

When you do use screens in your home, make them interactive:

  • Pause a video and talk about what you see.
  • Use the same toys, or do the same activities as what is on screen.
  • Apply information to real life.
  • Sing songs from shows during those routines at home.

Experts recommend a Digital Diet for children, customized to your family. Consider the following ideas for creating rules and sticking to them:

  1. Earn screen time by completing a non-screen activity:
    • Worksheet/summer homework page
    • Real play with siblings for 20 minutes
    • Exercise or outdoor play for 20 minutes
    • Completing a household chore
  2. Require siblings to agree on a show before watching.
  3. No screens before or after certain times (e.g., not before breakfast, not after dinner, etc.).
  4. Avoid screens in the evening, as this is related to poorer sleep.
  5. Create media-free zones in your home (e.g., no technology at the dinner table).
  6. Don’t leave the TV on in the background.

For the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Media and Young Minds, visit:

Additional information can be found here.

– Kellie Bouren, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

A simple guide to torticollis

baby with torticollis

image credit: spinewave.co.nz

You’ve just given birth to a beautiful child. You’re so caught up in joy and awe that you can’t help but take tons of pictures of the little one. But as you scroll through your pictures you may notice a common trend between 1 and 12 months old: your baby is always looking in one direction.

No, your baby isn’t giving the camera his good side. Your baby may have torticollis.

What is torticollis?

Don’t panic. Torticollis is common and a result of muscle tightness and weakness on one side of the neck. Any diagnosis sounds scary, but caught early enough, torticollis is an easy fix. As a physical therapist, I frequently treat patients with this diagnosis. The key is proactive treatment.

Torticollis occurs when the shoulder muscle, sternocleidomastoid, becomes tight. This can happen due to your baby’s position in the womb or from sleeping position. Twins and large babies are more likely to have torticollis from the reduced womb space. Also, babies’ heads are heavy and tend to rotate to one side when they sleep on their backs. The sternocleidomastoid’s action is lateral flexion (tilting) to one side and rotation (turning) to the other side.

So what can you do?

Start with these two stretches

  • Rotate your child’s head in the opposite direction your child usually looks. Do this hold for 15 to 20 seconds with light pressure every time you change your baby’s diaper (which let’s be real, is 10+ times per day). This improves range of motion and reminds the baby that there is another half of the world to see.
  • The other is the football carry. Place the baby facing out toward the world and turned on his side. Position so that the side of the neck the baby typically tilts is facing down. Put one hand on the side of their head and the other between their legs for support. Use your hand on the side of their head to lightly stretch the baby’s neck. This addresses the tilt component to the muscle tightness.

If you can’t visualize these stretches, I recommend an appointment with a physical therapist. You will see the stretches in person and applied to the specific direction of your child’s rotation and lateral flexion, as well as to learn other exercises for neck strengthening.

Lifestyle tips

  • Feed your child to the direction he doesn’t like to look in order to facilitate active rotation.
  • Adjust crib position so that your child has to turn his head to see what’s happening outside.
  • At playtime, put toys on the opposite side of baby’s head.
  • Have family members stand on the side your child looks to least often when they interact with them.
  • Encourage increased tummy time if your baby has a flat spot on the back of their head so he isn’t falling into that pattern of rotation when on his back.
  • Every adjustment helps!

If torticollis is left untreated, it can lead to a child favoring one arm during sitting and reaching activities, having one-sided weakness, and having an altered crawling or walking pattern. Although it’s an easily treated and often mild condition, ignoring it is the worst thing you can do. Allow your child to see the world from the proper angle and prevent future complications; treat torticollis early!

– Amanda Kirk, DPT, is a physical therapist with Beaumont Macomb Pediatric Rehabilitation.

Five tips for raising emotionally secure children

little girl hugging her dad and a teddy bear

If you read my post on Tuesday, you know I believe that a strong emotional security is one of the most important qualities you can instill in your child. Here are five tips to help you along your journey of bolstering that emotional security.

  1. Consistency. I can’t stress this one enough! Children thrive on routine and consistency because it makes them feel safe and secure in knowing what to expect. This starts in early infancy and carries through into adolescence.

    Consistency on the part of adults is of prime importance. When you act consistently, children know where they and their surroundings stand. Otherwise, children can feel confused and become unpredictable. Always do as you say. Be consistent in your actions and follow through with promises or consequences.

    Children sense chaos, so when things are getting chaotic, I often ask myself, “Am I staying consistent?” If not, I try to regroup and create a sense of routine in any way possible, this helps create a safer, more predictable environment, which in turn helps children feel more secure in the happenings of their lives.

  1. Encouragement. This is simple but very important! Try to let your children know that they are good at things, that they are nice people, and that you like them. It’s important that they know that we don’t just love them, but that we like them. We like being with them, we like spending time with them.

    We generally tell our children when they fail, when they annoy us, or when we feel let down by them, but we may forget to mention the good things. Thus, many children get the impression that they aren’t “getting it right” and can easily feel emotionally insecure and develop a poor self-concept. Remember, success breeds success. Children need to have successful experiences and have their achievements recognized to develop self-esteem and emotional security.

  1. Listen and explore their feelings. Try to accept your child’s reality. If a child is upset or scared about something (regardless of how irrelevant or trivial it may seem to you), accept that this is the real feeling of the child.

    Rather than brushing over the issue/feeling or trying to fix the problem (as we tend to do as parents), dig deeper. In other words, ask what the child is feeling and then help to go through these feelings to either accept or work around the worrying feeling. This can lead to your child’s better understanding of his feelings and teaches good coping techniques. The result: Your child feels more emotionally secure.

  1. Realistic expectations. Keep your level of expectation within the realms of the child’s ability. It is great to challenge our kids to be the best that they can, but keep it realistic. We shouldn’t expect kids to do more than they are capable of achieving. Success is a progression of small steps, not one giant leap.
  1. Lead by example. This is one of my favorites! Children are always watching and listening. It is extremely important to lead by example, in our daily interactions with our partners, our loved ones, our friends, our community. Be aware of how you interact with your children. Be aware of how you interact with others. Listen to yourself. Stay aware that children emulate us and use us as role models.

    Hey, I get it. We are all human and we lose it sometimes. But if you start focusing on what your children are doing or how they are feeling, you may start to see a mirror image of yourself in your children (like a *gasp* “I’ve become my mother” moment). Stay cognizant that we lead by example in our everyday interactions. When our children see us as confident, responsible, loving, mature, and secure parents, they will emulate the way we interact and sense the way we feel. Strive for your own emotional security and chances are your children will sense it and feel more secure themselves.

– Dr. Hannan Alsahlani is a Beaumont pediatrician and proud mother of four girls.

Let’s secure our children’s emotional security

four girls cuddled under blanket

I just kissed my four daughters good night and tucked them into bed. Surrounded by love, cuddles, giggles, and an immense sense of joy, it was a sweet ending to a rough day. I laid down and the first thing that came to mind was emotional security and feeling secure. I’m nowhere close to a perfect mom, I have my ups and downs. Life comes like a tornado at times and then settles down and we see the sun. Today I am seeing the sun and I am grateful for the sunny days.

Then the word security popped up again. I know my children feel secure; I am sure of it. Another thing I am absolutely sure of: As parents we must strive to make our children always feel secure. Not just by telling them they are safe and secure, but by our actions. Regardless of our children’s ages, it’s never too early to implement the sense of emotional security in their lives.

One of the most important qualities you can instill in your children is a deep sense of security in themselves and their world. Secure children grow up to be more confident, resilient, and empathetic, and they persevere in difficult situations.

There are a few things that help nurture my children’s developing sense of emotional security:

  • Security in one’s self. I am capable of taking care of myself. I am in control of who I am and what I want to be.
  • Security in the people around them. There are people in my world who will protect me and be there for me when needed.
  • The way they view the world. My world is a safe place that I can explore with confidence and free from fear.

To feel secure in themselves, children first need to feel secure in their world. If the family feels safe, then the child feels safe and secure. As a child grows up, this sense of security is internalized. We must show our children that unconditional love is unrelated to their actions, appearance, social standing, or achievements. With unconditional love comes emotional security.

I’m not sure I always felt secure growing up. Maybe it is for this reason I’ve been hypervigilant to make sure my daughters felt secure from infancy. I tell them, “You are safe, you are loved, you are special, you are strong, you are fierce, you are unstoppable, and you are capable,” before they sleep at night, when they wake up in the morning, and any chance I get.

I’ll be honest. Today was a rough day for me with lots of stressors and lots of very sick kids at work. When I came home and my daughters hugged me, immediately they could tell it was a rough day. My girls sat me down, asked me to take a deep breath, and together said, “Mommy,  you are safe, you are loved, you are special, you are strong, you are fierce, you are unstoppable, and you are capable,” and then they hugged me.

In that moment I knew I had done something right. Without question, I felt safe, emotionally secure and home again.

As I watch my 6-month-old sleep on her baby monitor, as I peek in on my 2-year-old hugging Mickey Mouse in her crib, and as I kiss my sleeping 8 and 9-year-olds’ sweet sleeping cheeks, I feel relieved knowing they feel secure. And for now, in this moment, I know I am helping them grow into emotionally secure human beings. I truly believe this is one of the greatest gifts I can give them.

You can give your child this amazing gift, too. Check back on Thursday for the second article in this series: Five tips for raising emotionally secure children.

– Dr. Hannan Alsahlani is a Beaumont pediatrician and proud mother of four girls.