A new study shows that over-controlling parenting, or “helicopter parenting,” can harm a child’s ability to manage his or her emotions and behavior.
The findings, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, assert that children need space to learn and grow on their own, without Mom or Dad hovering over them.
The study found that over-controlling parenting when a child was 2 was linked to poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5. Conversely, the stronger a child’s emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10.
Kids with better impulse control at age 10 were less likely to have emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school.
“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment,” said Nicole B. Perry, Ph.D., from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study.
“Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school.”
Parents should be sensitive to their children’s needs, recognize when a child is capable of managing a situation on his or her own, but be there to guide them when emotional situations become too challenging.
This balance in parenting helps children develop the skills to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and allows for better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships and academic success.
Learning to manage one’s emotions and behavior is a fundamental skill that all children need to learn, and over-controlling parenting can limits these opportunities, said Perry.
For the study, the researchers observed 422 children over the course of eight years and evaluated them at ages 2, 5 and 10. Children in the study were predominantly white and African-American and from economically diverse backgrounds. Data was collected from observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds. During the observations, parents and children were told to play as they would at home.
“Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding,” said Perry. “The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration.”
“Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments,” said Perry.
“Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children’s autonomy with handling emotional challenges.”
Perry suggested that parents can help their children learn to manage their emotions and behavior by talking with them about how to understand their feelings and by explaining what behaviors may stem from feeling certain emotions, as well as the consequences of different responses.
Then parents can help their children figure out positive coping strategies, such as deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.
“Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behavior when upset,” said Perry.