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Are you a helicopter parent?

SINGAPORE — There has been quite a lot of talk about "helicopter parenting", or cosseting, in recent years - so much so that the Ministry of Education (MOE) even shared a post about it on Facebook earlier this month.

Are you a helicopter parent?

Hovering over your children could harm more than just their education . Photo: Chinh Le Duc/unsplash.com

SINGAPORE — There has been quite a lot of talk about "helicopter parenting", or cosseting, in recent years - so much so that the Ministry of Education (MOE) even shared a post about it on Facebook earlier this month.

The post linked to an article on MOE's online publication, Schoolbag.sg, which contained illustrations and examples of "helicoptering". These include situations such as bargaining with the child's teacher to give him one more mark so the child can go one grade up, doing the child's project for him instead of letting him do it himself, and "flying" to school with the child's homework when he forgets to bring it with him.

But what is the exact definition of helicopter parenting?

Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, calls the phenomenon "a maladaptive type of parenting" in which the parent is "overprotective, hovers around the child, and gets involved in his affairs and activities excessively".

The people who adopt this method of parenting do so because they believe it is in the best interests of their child.

Dr Lim also revealed why helicoptering has become such a popular style of parenting in recent years.

"It's a problem (that arises from) affluence, and is likely to be present in many societies," he explained. "But the problem may be worse in Singapore, as many parents are kiasu and afraid their children will get left behind if they do not interfere.

"It is also getting more popular these days as each family has fewer children, which makes them more precious. More parents also have the resources and time at hand to do so, compared with previously," he added.

While showing an interest in your child's development and progress - both in and out of school - is good, hovering over your children constantly could cause them harm and destroy more than just their learning process, said some experts.

The MOE added some cautionary remarks on its website. "You want to help, but do you know that (helicopter parenting) may hinder your child from being independent, savvy and street-smart ... or make your child think he isn't good enough and raise his anxiety level?" the ministry said.

Dr Sara Delia Menon, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Counselling, said that over-involved parents "potentially limit opportunities for their child to develop appropriate assertiveness, draw healthy boundaries between themselves and others, and take personal responsibility for their tasks and choices".

"Whether they end up blaming themselves or others, children may get the message that what they are doing is 'not enough', and that they are unable to fix it on their own," she said.

Dr Menon added that aside from developing unrealistic expectations of themselves or others, children can also develop anxiety around their own academic and social performance.

EXPERIENCE IS A GOOD TEACHER

According to Dr Lim, experience is the best teaching tool, so it is important to sometimes let children learn for themselves in various situations.

While no parent would want their children to encounter potentially threatening situations; when parents rush too quickly to protect them, those kids may not be able to learn how to protect themselves, as they may become reliant on their parents for protection. Worse, the children might not even be able to identify dangerous situations when

they occur.

"Overprotective behaviour from parents has also been known to result in phobias," said Dr Lim added. "The child learns from the parent to over-appraise dangerous stimuli, and totally avoids and shuns these situations, or approaches them with great fear (phobic behaviour).

"They are then unprepared, as they turn into youths, to be independent."

Generally, the level of parental involvement depends on the child's age. Dr Menon explained that older children need greater autonomy, while younger ones require more parental involvement.

Dr Lim warned that helicopter parenting can sometimes persist even into adulthood, where parents continue to interfere in the work or even marriages of their children.

"This is clearly unhealthy for the children (who are now adults and) may not be able to handle their problems without their parents' involvement (even) in adulthood," he said.

Learning the hard way also lets children develop differently. "An overly-sheltered child may develop a strong sense of entitlement and belief that life will always be a bed of roses," said Dr Lim.

He explained that occasional disappointments and failures are the best times to educate children about three things: How to deal with their emotions during such situations; how to reflect on mistakes, and strategise and improve the next time; and the reality that they will always face adversity in life, and survive it.

As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said: That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

"These experiences will help them develop a sense of resilience, and the ability to accept and rise from failure," Dr Lim said. "Give children the opportunity and space to learn from mistakes and disappointments, knowing that adversity will help them mature and grow into better and more successful people."

WHAT IS YOUR MOTIVATION?

So how does one avoid or stop being a helicopter parent?

Dr Menon said that one way is to set some reasonable expectations and limits for your children, while at the same time taking into consideration your child's age, abilities and temperament.

For example, speaking to your child's teacher about your kid being teased at school is appropriate and encouraged while he or she is in kindergarten.

However, doing the same when the child is already in a tertiary institution (or perhaps, it seems these days, even at secondary school level) might not be such as good idea as a first-option response.

"Take a step back from the behaviours that fall under a helicopter parenting approach, and look at what else you are doing with or for your child. If your interaction with your child is characterised by you dominating his educational or occupational sphere, something is probably not right," she said.

Also, parents should reflect on the drivers behind their behaviour. Aside from being motivated by acting in the best interests of your child, how many of your actions might be driven by social pressure, a fear of negative comparisons, or vicarious fulfilment of a personal unrealised dream?

"Parents should be mindful and ask themselves: Are they hovering around their children or jumping into the children's situations because they are anxious themselves? Will jumping in, crying foul and complaining help the child in any way?" said Dr Lim.

"The likelihood is that the parents are reacting to their own anxieties, and if they are seen as difficult parents, it may make things worse for the children, especially in school."

This, he said, may not turn out so well for the children in the long run. "The kids may model themselves after their parents, and whine about every disappointment and blame others instead of looking at their own shortcomings and improving," he added.

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