Filed under: Parenting
As your children head to college, it’s hard to know how much to let go and still support them as they tackle new challenges. It’s a major milestone for both kids and parents, and the milestone is especially relevant for Department of Defense parents (80% of whose children go to college, compared to 66% of graduating high school students in the U.S. with non-DoD parents).
During this transition, “helicopter parents” (so-called because they hover) frequently text or call, continue to make decisions for their children, and directly intervene when problems arise between their kids and other people. It makes sense to let go and give your children “space” as they transition into adulthood. After all, how else is your emerging adult supposed to learn self-reliance and financial independence? But protective parenting instincts can overcome what might otherwise make sense.
Helicopter parenting can essentially be an overdose of previously good instincts. To your kids, it can feel as though you’re trying to control how they act or feel. Even though you have good intentions, your behavior may feel intrusive to them, and it might not be obvious that “solving” your kids’ interpersonal, school, or work crises actually causes problems. In fact, helicopter parenting usually leads kids to feel less engaged with college, more anxious and depressed, and less pro-active.
Here are some tips for less-direct ways to help that also keep you grounded instead of “flying away” as a helicopter parent:
- Resist the urge to make decisions for your kid. Instead, ask open-ended questions to get him or her thinking.
- Ask your kid to set his/her own boundaries for how much he or she wants you to intrude (such as how often to text or call), and accept them!
- Encourage your kid to have direct conversations with other important people such as professors.
- Give tips on how to do things such as grocery shopping (rather than just doing it yourself).
- Avoid tracking grades; encourage your kid to set his or her own goals and sub-goals.
If you are a helicopter parent, you don’t have to change radically overnight. But make sure you talk to your kids about the changes you’re planning, and then gradually make them happen. Give your kids more power and autonomy, such that you become a trusted advisor rather than a dictator. The milestone of college isn’t a time for parents to withdraw completely, but it is a time to trust that some of what you taught your children actually sunk in.
You can think of parenting styles as having two key elements: control and compassion. At one end of the spectrum, you can demand a lot of your child to get him or her on the right track. At the other end, you can let him or her do whatever he or she pleases. Similarly, you can show interest, respect, and caring warmth toward your child, or at the other end of the continuum, show disinterest.
There are four parenting styles that combine these elements:
- Drill Sergeants: These parents are very pushy and not very warm.
- Warm Leaders: These parents are fairly demanding but also warm.
- Teddy Bears: These parents are not demanding and are very warm.
- Ghosts: These parents are uninvolved—neither demanding nor warm.
Why does it matter what parenting style you use? Your style not only affects how your kids are bonded with you, but your parenting style is also linked to your child’s outcome. For example, Warm Leader parents are more likely to have well-adjusted kids who have fewer behavior problems and are less likely to get in trouble.
Parenting styles commonly change over the course of a child’s life; a change can happen because of divorce, life events, or any number of other reasons. So what happens when parents change their parenting approach?
When Drill Sergeants become Warm Leaders, parent-child bonds can improve. When Teddy Bears and Ghosts become Warm Leaders, the bond typically improves and so does behavior. But when Teddy Bears become Drill Sergeants or Ghosts, kids tend to engage in delinquent behavior. In other words, either clamping down hard or dropping out of a kid’s life after being warm but undemanding won’t help your kids become happy and well adjusted.
If you are a Warm Leader parent already, you may need to give your teen more space as he or she matures (which is developmentally appropriate), but overall, keep at it! If you’re not, consider moving towards becoming a “Warm Leader.” To do so, focus on being rational, warm, and consistent in your interactions with your teen.
HPRC salutes Mother’s Day with special recognition of the mothers of Warfighters, mothers who are Warfighters, and Warfighters’ spouses who are mothers. HPRC works to help keep you and your Warfighter healthy, happy, and fit so that every day is Mother’s Day!
Parenting can be a challenge under the best of circumstances. The extra stressors associated with the military lifestyle can make parenting even more challenging. The Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs now has a website dedicated to parenting for service members and veterans—militaryparenting.org. You can take courses and view modules and tip sheets on a variety of topics, including:
- Promoting positive parent-child communications
- Helping your child with difficult emotions and behaviors
- Having a positive approach to discipline
- Managing stress and emotions as a parent
- Tips for talking about your deployment
- Essential communication strategies
For more resources on parenting and fostering family resilience, check out HPRC’s section on “Rock Solid Families.”
As a non-deployed parent, taking care of yourself is important. Taking time just for you has been linked to better parenting, healthier lifestyles, and greater satisfaction with life overall. Also, parental can model healthy ways to manage and cope with stress that effectively decrease children's worry, as they sometimes express concern over their parents’ health and support. Real Warriors suggests scheduling time to relax with a book, do gardening, or practice yoga. Volunteering at a local charity is also a great way to provide both personal satisfaction and connection to community.
Having children help out with dinner and keeping the same routine when a parent is deployed; marking a calendar with an X for every day their parent is away, and having a great support system are just a few of the strategies that the Sesame Street Workshop's program on "Preparing for Deployment" offers.
They also have age-appropriate workshops for younger children on "When Families Grieve," "Coping with Changes," and "Homecomings Family Routines."
The American Psychological Association offers communication tips for parents:
- Make yourself available to your children to talk, listen or do things together.
- Let your children know you are listening.
- Express your opinion in a way that your child can hear your message.
- Remember that children often learn how to deal with emotions, solve problems, and work through stressful situations from their parents.
Dietary data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES, 2005-2006) for children between ages two through 19 suggest that children may not be drinking enough water for optimal health. The study also found that children and adolescents may be getting as much as two-thirds of their total water intake with their main meals. Try replacing non-nutritious beverages like sodas with nutritious beverages (or better yet, plain water) at meal time. This could have a positive impact on the diet, weight, and health of your children.