What’s a helicopter parent, anyway??!

Are you a helicopter parent? Here’s my take.

ADHD parents are in a club of our own. When our children start a new school year, join a new club, or make a new friend we find ourselves hovering close by. We try to make sure our kids have a successful experience, because we all know just-how-quickly things can take a turn for the worse and end up in a ball of flames.

In my own experience, I was the mom who stayed at every soccer practice and swim lesson. While my girlfriends used that time to run errands, I sat on the side lines making sure I’d be there if something went wrong. I was the mom who made sure to attend every field trip. I was the mom who insisted that sleep overs were at my house. And I was the mom who walked into the school office with forgotten homework, instruments, and lunches.

All the while, we get pressure from both ourselves and our family, friends, school administrators and even strangers on social media that we are becoming a so-called-helicopter parent. We are told – either implicitly or explicitly – that we need to be “tougher” on our kids. We are advised to “let them experience natural consequences.” 

“Let them go without lunch one day. THAT will help them remember it tomorrow,” they say.

“Let them lose that friend. THAT will teach them how to be more kind,” they say.

“Let them get hurt. THAT will teach them to be more careful,” they say.

Ummmmmmm…. Nope. 

To those of us raising kids with ADHD, those tactics seem cruel. Most of us have tried them, and didn’t see the miraculous results that our well-meaning-observers believe will result. We just saw more tantrums, more forgetfulness, more frustration, fewer friends, more injuries, and less self-esteem. 

We saw our kids growing into chronically unhappy kids. Not just for the moment of struggle, but for a prolonged time. 

So we step closer. We do more.

But when do we cross the invisible line and become a “helicopter parent” instead of the parent our children need us to be? 

I have a lot of parents ask me that question. They ask, 

  • “Am I becoming a helicopter parent by following so close?” 
  • “Am I helping to much or hurting my child?”
  • “Am I teaching my child how to be independent, or am I protecting them too much?”

Good questions.

When people use the term “helicopter parent,” what they are really saying is that the help, supervision, and/or protection you are providing to your child is excessive, unnecessary and/or counter-productive. They are saying that your child would be better off without the support because without it your child would be forced to learn a critical lesson or develop an important skill that they don’t currently have. 

I find myself in this place sometimes, and here is the question I ask myself in order to parse out whether my “assistance” to my child is helpful or harmful… 

Am I trying to eliminate my child’s pain or frustration, or am I trying to moderate my child’s pain or frustration to a level at which they can still learn? 

If your goal is to moderate, you’re on the right path. If your goal is to eliminate, we need to talk. 

The way human beings learn and develop resilience and independence is by being challenged at developmentally appropriate levels and experiencing pain. We don’t become resilient and independent by being sheltered from failure.

Your child needs to experience both success and failure. But not too much failure. Too much failure without some glimmers of success creates hopelessness and helplessness.  

I recently watched a Glennon Doyle speech where she was talking about building resilience in children. And she said two things that were really important to this point. She said, 

“What is it in a human life that builds kindness and wisdom and resilience? It’s Pain. That’s it. It’s the struggle. It’s not having nothing to overcome. It’s overcoming, and overcoming, and overcoming.”

Did you catch that? Two things are needed:

  • Pain / Struggle; AND
  • A whole lot of overcoming.  

 Struggle without any overcoming is not the formula. 

Kids with ADHD experience more than their fair share of pain and struggle in places like school, sports and friendships. Sometimes parents see their job as protecting their children from too much struggle. 

And when this happens we see our role as giving our children just one space that is a little easier to navigate than the real world. Where they have the opportunity to “overcome, and overcome and overcome.” Where they have the opportunity to actually build the resilience you so desperately want them to build. 

This isn’t being a helicopter parent – this is being the parent your child needs you to be. 




P.S. Glennon Doyle goes on to say something even more beautiful that I thought I’d pass along to you today. She says…  — “… it was never our job – nor our right – to protect our children from their pain. Our job is to point them directly towards it and say ‘Baby, that was meant for you. And I see your fear, and it’s real and it’s big. And I see your courage, and it’s bigger.’”