Anxiety. It’s one of the scariest and most challenging issues facing today’s parents and kids. With youth depression, suicide, and anxiety at an all-time high, we’ve become a culture of helicopter parents, hovering over our kids and micromanaging their every move to ensure that they survive. We step in and take the lead and do all the talking and fix all the mistakes, because none of us wants our kids to fail. But that’s not doing anyone any good, least of all our kids.The reality is, all the obsessing and intervening we do on our kid’s behalf is having a negative and debilitating effect on them in the long-term by leaving them ill-equipped to deal with day-to-day life on their own. By handling everything for our kids that they should be handling on their own, we’re depriving our kids of the hands-on experience of advocating for themselves and resolving their own problems and taking responsibility for their own actions, leaving them paralyzed and unable to think for themselves. And that paralysis is making our children anxious and totally dependent on us to do all their decision-making and problem-solving for them. And that’s not good.
As the mom of two grown daughters, a former educator, and a parenting author, I’ve seen what helps kids grow and what thwarts their independence. Here are six proven tips for how to encourage your kids to think, talk, and act for themselves and ground the helicopter parent in you forever.
- Admit to yourself that you’re not a perfect parent. We’re all guilty of making as many bad decisions as good ones because none of us has all the answers. And we’re not supposed to. So, take a deep breath and give yourself permission to screw up, make mistakes, and be frustrated. Because we’re all a work in progress, and the sooner we accept that we don’t have all the answers, the quicker we free ourselves of the fear of failure and allow ourselves to focus our energy on doing the best we can for our kids.
- Accept that your kids aren’t perfect either. Kids are kids. Like it or not, they’re going to fail and fall and make choices we don’t agree with all the time. So, the best thing we can do for them is let them experience those mistakes and failures and disappointments and give them the tools they need to help pick themselves back up and forge on. Because if they don’t learn how to cope with failure when they’re young, they’ll never learn how to cope with it as adults.
- Hold your kids accountable for their actions. Teach your kids that they need to be responsible for what they say and do, whether the outcome is good or bad. Allowing kids to blame someone else for their mistakes or decisions (or allowing yourself to assume that your kids can do no wrong) gives your children zero accountability for their behavior. Be sure to hold them accountable and be consistent giving them consequences that will help them learn from their mistakes going forward.
- Set high expectations for your kids but temper them with love and understanding. Set high standards and clearly define the rules within your family. Establish limits and boundaries with your kids and be consistent enforcing them but use positive reinforcement and open communication to guide and nurture your kids. Combine a mix of warmth and involvement with limits and boundaries and offer explanations, resources, and support to help your kids succeed.
- Foster open communication with your kids and be a good listener. Create an environment where your children feel comfortable talking to you without fear. Listen to your kids and encourage them to share their opinions and feelings and ideas and remember to take their feelings into consideration. Because their feelings count too. Ask them how the feel and what they think and what the want. They’ll be way more willing to share their thoughts when they know they’re being heard.
- Walk the walk and talk the talk. It’s not just important to teach our kids good values and discipline and good judgement, we also need to model the behaviors we expect from our children. Because not only are our kids always listening to us, they’re always watching us too. So it’s as important that we talk the talk as it is that we walk the walk. We need to be the people we want our kids to be.
I know it feels counterintuitive to step back and let our kids make some of their own decisions but it’s honestly one of the best ways we can support them as they learn to navigate their own lives. Between school, friends, the pull of social media, and keeping up with the world around them, today’s generation of young people have enough stress and anxiety on them that they don’t need our stress hovering over them too. But by empowering our kids with the confidence, courage, and tools they need to succeed on their own, we can raise a generation of balanced, well-adjusted, and capable kids with a strong sense of self and the confidence to handle anything that life throws at them.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. She writes the nationally syndicated opinion column It Is What It Is and is the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free, available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores everywhere. Lisa is also a MentorMama at SocialMama, the networking app for moms. Read and discuss all her columns and books at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on GrownAndFlown.com, Hot Moms Club, LittleThings.com, MommingHubb.com, More Content Now, Wickedlocal.com, This Mama Wines, and Care.com.