Don’t Call Me A Helicopter Parent

We’ve all seen them. Parents who refuse to let their kids fail – and then overstep boundaries with the adults in charge.

Maybe a little. Too often a lot.

Helicopter1Helicopter parents to the rescue – again. At what cost?

Shouldn’t young people stand on their own two feet? Shouldn’t they learn from their mistakes?

Of course, they should – whenever able.

Failure is a messy but necessary element of success.

In turn, individuals master personal responsibility – one small step at a time.

Personally, I’ve been called a helicopter parent. Although I may look like one from a distance, my motives are clearly not the same.

You see, my children stare failure in the face – when they desire a taste of success. Almost every day. During any task.

Intellectual and emotional challenges will do that.

To clarify my point, let me give you an example of my so-called helicopter actions. 

It’s one of many and involves my middle son.

At school he struggled mightily from the beginning. He was anxious. He was also impulsive. Moreover, he didn’t always process language correctly.

By fourth grade when students are expected to follow protocol to the letter, my son could easily misinterpret a situation – especially unfamiliar ones. Within seconds he could fall to pieces for the entire classroom to witness.

Not a good scene for anyone.

If someone didn’t respond quickly and help him sequence the facts – with a large dose of patience and compassion, his frustration overwhelmed him. That could lead to a meltdown. Then possibly a rage – followed by an out-of-school suspension.

Some tried to call his behavior willful. I knew better.

Rather, it’s consistent with his complex mental health condition from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder – along with a history of early childhood trauma.

Like any caring parent, I eventually intervened. Lots of nods during one school conference after another. Yet minimal action. And no one committing to listen to him when dysregulated.

Instead, he would be forced to comply.

Finally, I asked – and practically begged – to let my son call me on my cell phone when he felt the need.

AdvocateBecause I know him best.

I would make time to listen. I would calm him in the process. Hopefully, he would return to class ready to learn.

After being told that my son would take advantage of the situation, I simply replied.

He could.

After being called “enabling and over-involved,” I didn’t argue but asked.

Can’t we try? It might just work.  

And I was right. The phone calls did work most of the time.

Some weeks no calls. Other weeks several calls a day. Not surprisingly, the flow of each was strikingly the same.

My son began by unloading his emotions – less about the teacher’s request and more about her/his demeanor. Interesting.

Then I would ask him to breathe. Next he stated the facts – with me asking clarifying questions. Once we properly sequenced the event, I asked him for his response – and the necessary steps to make it happen. I finished by emphasizing his cooperation and offering my unconditional support.

I love you and I believe in you. 

Most calls lasted less than five minutes.

Highly productive. Well worth the interruption at work.

More importantly, the results were clear. With less time out of the classroom and more emotional stability, my son’s progress improved from failing miserably to passing – just barely.

Best of all, his self-worth jumped. From almost none to something I could feel at home. A huge win!

From that year forward, every Behavior Intervention Plan in my son’s Individual Education Program included the provision for him to call me – whenever he asked.

Never-ever call me a helicopter parent.

Call me an advocate instead.  DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

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