With the free-range kids' movement happening across the US (and elsewhere), helicopter parenting is the top criticism many modern parents face. From constantly being on standby for when their kids need them, to getting into others’ business for fear that bad habits will rub off on their little ones, helicopter moms have a bad rap.
But when you consider all the ways that being a helicopter parent is potentially damaging to kids, you might start to reconsider your own parenting practices. You might not agree with every parenting concept that “free range” moms peddle, but it doesn’t mean they’re all wrong. Letting our kids explore, make mistakes, and do things for themselves has untold benefits for their development and their futures.
Still, most moms have some bad helicoptering habits but don’t do everything on this list. In those cases, you get a free pass for hovering a little too much, as long as you let kids be kids at least most of the time. Of these 20 signs of a helicopter mom, ten or more might mean you need to take a closer look at how you’re raising your kids- but maybe from a few feet farther away than usual.
20 she's Overly Cautious
Most moms are guilty of this habit: telling kids to “be careful.” But research says doing so could be causing our kids more problems than a scraped knee or banged elbow. In general, life involves risks, even as an adult. Taking on a new business venture or quitting a dead-end job, meeting someone new or going on a grown-up travel adventure- all these things help us grow as people. Kids need the same opportunities, and as mom Devin Kate Pope wrote for Romper, using “be careful” is no replacement for being attentive and responsive to our kids. Rather than telling them to be careful, we can offer more constructive advice prompting like “what’s your plan when…” or “can I help you with…”
19 she Says 'No' Before hearing the question
It might be the first word you say to your exploring infant or toddler, and it also may be the first word you hear back from them. But saying “no” all the time doesn’t make it more effective when you truly need it, and experts from Psychology Today reason that there are only a few situations in which moms truly need to tell kids no. One of those situations would be one that involves potential harm to a person or property. But the rest of the time, biting our tongues may just result in kids discovering something new- even if it does make a mess or take a lot of work.
18 she Makes every choice down to the socks
If you’ve ever fought with a toddler or older child about their wardrobe, you’ll recognize this scenario. Mom wants her kid to wear clothing that’s clean, matches, suits the weather, and isn’t the same shirt and pants the kid has worn for a week straight already. But what’s the real harm in letting kids wear what they want, as long as it’s reasonably clean? Helicopter moms don’t let kids choose their clothing, whether for fear of someone noticing it’s the same outfit as two days ago or because it involves both stripes and plaid. Regardless, childhood is a time to explore everything- fashion included- and hovering too much as junior picks his clothes will only make him self-conscious about his choices.
17 she doesn't allow any Risk... Like Running
Sure, there are legitimate situations when it’s not safe to run. Concrete pools and slippery grocery store floors come to mind. But at the park, in a field, along the sidewalk- to tell kids they can never run isn’t just unnecessary, but also a little cruel! Kids are made to move, so constantly telling them to slow down and stop running is counterintuitive to what their biology suggests. Besides, once they become teenagers, you probably won’t be able to get them on their feet often at all, so enjoy this super-mobile stage, as tiring as it can be for parents following behind.
16 she Chooses her kids' friends
Every parent of a tween or teen probably doesn’t absolutely love all their child’s friends. As moms especially, we’re critical of our children’s friends if they come across as being controlling or fake or otherwise undesirable. But from an early age, kids will want to connect with other children they have things in common with. We can’t always control who they become friends with- just like we can’t control who they date later on. If you find yourself always criticizing your child’s friends or trying to get in the middle of their business, you might be a helicopter mom. Of course, bullying is never to be taken lightly- and in those scenarios, a helicopter mom might be just what’s needed.
15 she Literally spoon-feeds her kids
Mealtime seems to be one of the most stressful times of day for moms. Between juggling all her other responsibilities, if it’s up to mom to make dinner, she’s likely worrying over who won’t like the vegetable she serves or whose meal will go untouched completely. And while we can’t please everyone, only a true helicopter mom will spoon feed her older kid or make a custom meal per child to indulge their palate. Allergies and food sensitivities aside, moms shouldn’t be cutting up and spoon-serving their kids beyond toddlerhood. After all, when will they learn to feed themselves and try new things?
14 she has Food restrictions galore
Healthy eating habits are crucial for kids of all ages. Every mom wants to teach her little ones to eat her vegetables and drink enough water. But there comes a point at which limiting kids’ food options becomes harmful to them. In fact, Today’s Parent consulted with a registered dietician who confirmed that when kids feel really restricted or deprived, they might hide food or overeat when they do have access to junk. Banning junk food tends to create a bigger appetite for it, and studies have shown that kids who have restrictions on food at home wind up heavier and less healthy than kids who are allowed treats in moderation- meaning helicoptering around your kid and banning sugar won’t help them develop healthy habits after all.
13 She can't help but Overstep
With the technology available to our kids, it’s tempting to want to control their every digital move. But Psychology Today confirms that reading kids’ texts, private messages, or diaries only has detrimental effects. Violating kids’ privacy is not only unnecessary in most cases, one doctor explains, but it can also be harmful to the parent-child relationship. Plus, if you’ve taught your kids healthy online habits before exposing them to the internet and cell phones, there shouldn’t be a whole lot to worry about. Beyond kids’ safety, intruding on their privacy can make them even more secretive and willing to lie or hide info- meaning mom will have to pry even more to maintain her spying.
12 She is her children's voice
It’s tempting with young children especially, but many moms of older kids tend to speak for them, too. It’s one thing if strangers ask your toddler a question and then have a hard time deciphering the answer, but if you’re regularly answering questions for your tween or teen, you’re taking away their voice. Even if you’re worried they won’t respond correctly or appropriately, who really cares? Kids are supposed to be weird, moody, and their own people- and speaking for them when they’re capable of doing it on their own won’t help them become functional adults. Even children with special needs are allowed to take their time and interact with others, regardless of the setting.
11 She'll test the teacher
As parents, we want the best for our kids- and that includes when it comes to their education. While some helicopter moms might resort to homeschooling purely to have complete control over their students, maintaining kids’ independence can happen in both home and public school settings. Where mom’s behavior segues into helicopter mode is when she’s constantly communicating with the teacher about special accommodations for her typically developing child, asking for extensions on assignments, and arguing that her special little one shouldn’t have to respect the classroom structure or its rules. This is especially clear when kids get to high school or college- mom shouldn’t be buddies with her kids’ college professors or try to intervene when bad grades arrive home.
10 She's the Project Manager Mom
As a mom to school age kids, you’ve likely been asked to help with a school project or report. But there’s a difference between helping and doing everything for your kid. The difference lies in you respecting not only their vision for the project, but also the need for them to do some actual “work” themselves. It might be time-consuming or difficult, and you might want to do it a different way, but making your kid manage the project themselves will do wonders for their character. The helicopter mom who completes the assignment herself, however, has not only made life easier for her kid, but she’s also taught him that he doesn’t have to be responsible and put in the work.
9 she'll Nix the Kids' Choices
While choosing their own clothes as zany toddlers is one thing, starting kids out with small but relatively insignificant choices is a great way to encourage independence. So don’t stop with mismatched outfits in preschoolers. You might be a helicopter mom if you don’t allow your kids choices- from what clothing to wear to what books to read to where they plan to go to college. Part of making choices is making mistakes, of course, but that’s part of life- and the sooner kids learn that, the better. Being a helicopter mom doesn’t benefit kids when they never get to make choices on their own.
8 is she Chaperoning or spying?
In an effort to be the “cool mom,” you may have volunteered to serve as a chaperone or guide on a field trip or school event. But if you’re choosing to be a chaperone to spy on your kid instead of enjoying an experience with her, that’s a sign of a helicopter mom. Sure, chaperone that school dance- but keep your ruler to yourself when you see your kid slow dancing with their crush. And when it comes to managing conflict between your child and his or her friends, let them work it out. Getting in the middle of kids’ social lives is the ultimate in helicopter mothering, and unless someone’s in danger or being bullied, there’s no reason for it. Awkward phases, breakups, and all- let your kid own it themselves.
7 she's willing to Leash The Children
Child “leashes” are a huge source of debate for today’s parents. On one hand, children with certain behavioral needs may benefit from a safe way for parents to keep track of them. On the other hand, leashing up your child when your hands are otherwise free and you’re exploring a kid-friendly place isn’t exactly “good parenting.” If the leash is to keep your child out of danger, that’s great. But if it’s so that you can watch their every move without having to actually parent, leave the leash at home. On its own, a child harness doesn’t bely helicopter parenting. But in combination with other questionable practices, you might show symptoms of being a helicopter mom after all.
6 she's Raising a sore loser
When our kids win at something, it makes them feel good. They might become more confident or take more healthy risks. But when they lose, parents often feel the devastation even harder. Still, losing every once in a while is good for kids. Learning humility is key to being a good human, after all. So if you find yourself losing on purpose, rethink it for your child’s future. Always winning doesn’t teach kids much, except that perhaps they’re invincible or smarter or better than everyone else. The older the child, the more detrimental enabling them can be- and no one likes a sore winner, though good-natured losers often receive more compassion.
5 she doesn't trust anyone else with her child
Most moms I know don’t like to leave their children. Especially preschool age and under, it can be hard to pry your child off you to have a girls’ night out or even go grocery shopping alone. Plus, finding trustworthy caregivers is difficult. But you might be a helicopter mom if you refuse to leave your elementary-age child home with her other parent. Sure, moms are usually the primary caregivers and therefore have a child attached 95 percent of the time, but letting our kids have healthy attachments with other adults- especially their other parent and extended family- is good for them!
4 she tries to Banish All Germs
Most germs are benign, but that doesn’t stop many moms from over-sanitizing and deep-cleaning everything their babies on up lay a hand on. Sure, it’s wise to sanitize when your baby is young and wants to mouth on everything, and no one wants to touch a sticky and gross shopping cart without wiping it down first. But if you’re rushing ahead of your child with cleaning wipes before they touch a doorknob or scrubbing the swing before they hop on, you’re likely overdoing it. Unless your child has a severe autoimmune disorder or other condition, they’ll probably be fine with a little exposure to normal bacteria.
3 she Stays in the box, so to speak
If your kids are anything like mine, they probably have hundreds of toys they hardly play with. And the ones they do play with often, they probably don’t use the “right” way. But kids are creative and it’s part of their charm- so if you find yourself showing your kids the right way to use their toys and demanding that they think inside the box, you might be a helicopter mom. There’s no one way to do things, especially when it comes to play, and micromanaging kids’ playtime may make them abandon their activities altogether. Then later, you’ll hear “I’m bored!” because you’ve effectively quashed their creativity.
2 she's Against Getting Dirty
While society accepts that boys are dirty, for the most part, parents seem reluctant to acknowledge that getting dirty is good for all children- girls included. In fact, Time reported that kids’ exposure to “diverse microbes” from dirt and other stuff in the environment is beneficial for their health. Even children who eat dirt will likely be fine, and they probably won’t want to repeat the experience. Playing with dirt, mud, trees, plants, and even bugs can be fun and developmentally rewarding for kids. If you hate seeing your kids get dirty and keep them from doing it because of your own discomfort, you’re helicoptering too much without looking at the bigger picture.
1 she's a Nanny-Cam Nuisance
Many parents today have nanny cams to keep an eye on their tots while a caregiver is home alone with them. But plenty of other parents have nanny cams even though they never let their kids out of their sight. While in some cases kids’ behavior may warrant 24/7 monitoring, why do parents of typically developing children need to monitor their movements constantly? Especially as children get older, they should be able to spend some time alone just being weird like kids are. Unless they’re doing something truly dangerous, you probably don’t need to watch them on camera when you’re in the next room.