When helping your child can harm their cognitive development

Parents are becoming more and more involved in their children’s lives – they do their homework for them, they call their college-age kids multiple times a day, and swoop in to personally intervene whenever something difficult happened. WATCH

However, is all this extra support actually harming our children? Research tells us that all this extra helping actually has the potential to undermine a child’s ability and need to master life’s stresses and strains in the times when you are not around.

A key skill that is missing in children of helicopter parents is the ability to self-direct their behavior – to set goals, identify what is important and work towards that. Some researchers have coined the phrase “grit”, -perseverance and passion for long-term goals

A recent study of 6-7 year-olds found that those who were surrounded with more structured activities (led by someone) were less able to use their brain power to direct their own play. This is an important skill – it helps them be self advocates in life.

Without it, we are raising children who are reliant on others to fight their own battles and accomplish them their goals (feeling a sense of entitlement). A study of over 400 adolescents found that kids with helicopter parents were more likely to skip class and turn papers in late.

It’s not just children – college students are also affected.

  • 71% of parents send at least 3 texts per day to their child at college.
  • About half of parents call their child at college more than three times per day. 
  • 50% of parents say they communicate the same amount with their child even though the child is out of the home.

Multiple studies have found that college students who have helicopter parents have lowered sense of self-efficacy—the belief that they are capable of meeting life’s demands and solving their own problems. 

They also struggle to respond well in stressful workplace situations, such as when they receive a negative performance review from an employer. Instead of responding by saying they would listen to the criticism and try to improve -  they were more likely to say that they would quit the job or even ask a parent to call the manager on their behalf.

What can you do to help our children establish independence?

·       Test Boundaries

Take them to the playground and avoid helicopter parenting. If they are old enough, let them use their own judgment about the risks they take. You can always step in if you think it is necessary. Indoor climbing walls are great places for them to learn to control their fear in a safe setting.

·       Follow your child’s lead— Let them be proactive in decision making in some situations.

·       Let them solve small problems on their own – don’t be so quick to intervene. Let them learn to speak up for themselves.