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Does “helicopter parenting” work?

Parents sometimes hover (often called “helicopter” parenting) when their child heads to college, but is this helpful? Learn tips for providing your young adults the best kind of support.

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.

Need to update your parenting style?

Your parenting style has an important impact on your teen’s behaviors. And it turns out that many parents change their style along the way. Learn more about different styles and changes.

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:

  1. Drill Sergeants: These parents are very pushy and not very warm.
  2. Warm Leaders: These parents are fairly demanding but also warm.
  3. Teddy Bears: These parents are not demanding and are very warm.
  4. 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. 

Take a moment to connect with kids

Take a moment to connect with the children in your life this year. It can have amazing benefits.

The smallest acts of kindness and caring can have powerful results for kids of all ages. With everyone so busy juggling multiple responsibilities—especially military families—it can sometimes feel as if there’s never enough time to have meaningful connections with children. But kids still need those moments. A meaningful connection can be a hug, a smile, a loving word, a compliment, or just giving them your undivided attention for a few minutes to listen to a story they are telling, to sing a song, or dance together. Feeling loved in these small moments stays with a child his or her entire life. This New Year, set an intention to make a meaningful connection with any child(ren) in your life regularly. And remember: Adults also benefit from heartfelt connections. Hug your loved ones today.

Holiday stress? Keep it simple

Don’t let stress ruin your holidays. Here’s how to manage it differently this year.

The holidays are often a flurry of festivities, a time when we interact with more people than usual while at the same time feeling more stressed than usual. When you feel stress, often one of the first outward signs is how you communicate with others. Watch for an edgy tone to your voice and notice if you stop using a lot of eye contact with people who are talking to you. You may even start forgetting what someone just said. These are common signs of stress. This holiday season, go back to the basics: When someone is talking to you, use eye contact; when someone asks you to do something, repeat it back (it’ll help you remember); and think about your tone of voice and body posture (think open and non-defensive). But if you do slip up from time to time, own up to it, ask for forgiveness, have a good laugh, and focus on moving forward and looking at the bright side. 

Balance your materialism this gift season

Filed under: Families, Holidays
In this season of buying, take a moment to learn about the science behind materialism and its link to your well-being.

With the holidays, sales, and gift-giving (and receiving) upon us, material items may be on your radar more than usual. Thinking about what to get for your significant other, parents, children, friends, and/or coworkers is on many people’s to-do lists. But where should we draw the line with materialism—that focus on the status symbols of money and possessions? And does having more really make us happier?

Ironically, some research has shown that materialism actually relates to feelings of lower well-being. Being more focused on material things can lead to greater feelings of insecurity and “neediness.” Interestingly, this doesn’t depend on personal or household income (though few studies included multimillionaires or the homeless). But it does suggest that materialism is an effect not of wealth but of one’s attitude towards material things.

This isn’t the same as the desire for money or financial success. Believing that money is important can actually improve your well-being. But your sense of well-being can suffer if you link your desire for money with status, image, success, and happiness.

So this holiday season, strike the balance that works for you and your family as to how much you should focus on material items versus other (spiritual, mental, and physical) ways to meet individual and family needs.

Calling all military family support groups

Check out HPRC’s new section with resources for Family Readiness Groups, Family Support Centers, Family Advocacy Programs, and others you can use to support military families.

Attention military family support groups! Want resources to help support the work you do for military families? Check out HPRC’s new section in the “Family and Relationships” domain called “Relationship Toolkit.” We listened to requests from family support groups and programs like yours and created a section that houses many of our family-oriented HPRC resources in one place. They’re grouped according to topics such as building and maintaining strong relationships, exercising and eating healthfully as a family, recharging, and managing emotions. So check out the new section. And if you don’t see what you’re looking for, let us know via our “Ask the Expert” button.

Brush up on your relationship skills

Learn three key relationship skills highlighted in HPRC’s downloadable cards.

There are three core relationship skills that can help strengthen all relationships. HPRC has created downloadable cards about each of them.

First, brush up on your communication skills with your loved ones using our card on effective communication.

Second, you should be able to make decisions and solve problems well. Use the step-by-step process on our card on making decisions to guide you from problems to solutions.

Finally, avoid doing four specific behaviors that can tank even the best of relationships. Check out “How not to destroy yours” and apply the tips today.

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Childhood obesity awareness month focuses on preventive measures to help maintain the weight of children over the age of two.

Roughly one in three children in the United States is considered to be overweight or obese. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults, which can put them at risk for diabetes and other health conditions. The month of September is devoted to raising awareness about childhood obesity, with a focus on prevention.

We Can!® (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition) is a national movement sponsored by four National Institutes of Health organizations to help children from ages 8 to 13 remain at a healthy weight. The website has specific information and educational resources geared toward the individual, family, and organizations. See HPRC’s Family Nutrition resources for more information and this HPRC card for easy reminders. For more about the exercise aspect of overcoming obesity, check out the Family & Relationships article from earlier this month.

The ABCs (and Ds) of healthy, tempting school lunches

School has started up again, so it's time to start packing...

School has started, and the scramble to come up with interesting and appealing lunches for your children probably has, too. If you find you’re bored with the “ham sandwich, apple, and a cookie” routine shortly after the first bell, imagine how bored your child’s taste buds will be in a few weeks! Keeping your child interested in healthy eating is as easy as ABC (and D).

Adventure: Offer your child some variety. Choose high-fiber, whole-grain tortillas or breads for sandwiches and opt for tasty spreads such as salsa, hummus, or pesto for extra flavor. Lean roasted meats such as chicken or turkey are healthy, lean sources of protein; or try fat-free refried beans for an appealing vegetarian option. Tuck some lettuce and tomatoes in for fun, flavor, and nutrients. (Keep wraps and bread from getting soggy by wrapping veggies in meat slices.) Your child doesn’t care for the taste of whole-wheat breads? No problem. Whole-grain white-flour wraps and breads offer lots of fiber but have the taste and look of traditional white-flour choices.

Butters: If nuts aren’t off limits at your child’s school, try something different than the typical peanut butter and jelly: Almond or hazelnut butter topped with fresh fruit such as bananas or mango slices, or fruit spreads such as marmalade or apple butter. Nut butters are great sources of protein with healthy fats and don’t require refrigeration—a plus if cold storage isn’t available.

Cut-ups: Cut up fresh fruits and vegetables the night before and add some to your child’s lunchbox. Cantaloupe pieces, pineapple chunks, and kiwi slices are popular with kids and full of vitamins and other nutrients. Toss in some cauliflower or broccoli florets with a side of pre-packaged dip or salsa. If you’re short on time, pre-cut fruits and veggies are available from your local grocer, but they may be more expensive.

Dessert: Oatmeal cookies, dried fruit, or low-fat yogurt (if kept at 40ºF or less) are terrific, healthy choices.

Let your child dictate just how adventurous his or her lunchtime options should be—they might surprise you! For more great lunchtime ideas, the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook features 54 kid-friendly recipes. And remember: Safety first! Keep lunchboxes clean and cool (store in the refrigerator overnight) and provide a moist, cleansing towelette in your child’s lunchbox so he or she can wash up before eating.

SNAP your problems!

Filed under: Children, Families, Teens
SNAP your family’s problems with this easy-to-remember acronym.

Problem solving is a great resilience skill for families. All ages can learn or fine-tune their ability to solve problems. After all, life ensures there will be plenty of problems to solve! You can specifically help children learn how to problem solve with this easy-to-remember acronym—SNAP:

S: State the problem.

N: Name the goal.

A: Find All possible solutions.

P:  Pick one option.

For example, if your child wakes up tired every morning, you can help him or her identify the problem (being tired), set the goal of getting more sleep, and discuss possible solutions (such as going to bed earlier, developing a bedtime routine, or learning a relaxation skill such as deep breathing). Then help your child pick one to try for a specific time period (such as a week) to see if it works. And instead of trying to solve the problem yourself, be a coach and help your child learn how to solve problems using SNAP.

Check out FOCUS’s handout on SNAP to learn more. And for more resilience-building skills for your family, visit HPRC’s Family Resilience section.

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