As a building principal, I have often heard parents defend their child's inappropriate behavior regardless of the severity. They are often more concerned about the teacher's behavior or the other children rather than their child's behavior. These parents frame their position under the guise of "unconditional love" for their child.
The term unconditional love is a wonderful way to think about a parent's love for his/her child. It conjures up visions of limitless support, of advocacy, protection, absolute and beautiful love. As educators, we certainly hope that all parents indeed possess an unconditional love for their children, but does that equate to parental guidance? I think not!
Unfortunately, sometimes parents feign unconditional love to make up for the fact that they are not willing to give their children the valuable time needed to properly parent. They are not willing, or able, to work with their child, to listen to their child, to talk to their child or really get to know their child. These parents are simply too busy to properly parent and appropriately support their children. Literature refers to these parents as "free-range" parents.
Then let's turn to what has been termed the hovering parent, or "helicopter" parent. The helicopter parent is that parent who is over-involved in his/her children's lives. They interfere in all decision-making and take pride in the parental guidance they provide. They have their children in every possible after school activity and sport. They miss work to come to school to be there for their child. They also come to defend their child when their child has done something wrong. They are their child's best advocate and willingly share the many sacrifices they have made in the name of parenthood. All of this is wonderful and absolute, but is it healthy?
Psychologists warn us that children of helicopter parents lack confidence in themselves. They lack any sense of independence and are often unable to make logical decisions. Children of helicopter parents share that they are sometimes embarrassed by their parents' over-involvement. College deans describe students of the helicopter era as "teacups" ready to break at the tiniest stress.
Children need balance in their lives. Good parenting is certainly not a simple task, but here are some to-do's to finding a healthy parenting pathway:
Give your child a sense of uniqueness: Let your child know that he/she is special and wonderful. You just can't love a child too much. This is where the unconditional love comes in to play. Send a message to your child that you respect them as human beings. Praise and reinforce your child appropriately.
Give your child models: Let your child know the expectations for his/her behavior and establish appropriate consequences. Model that which is morally and socially right. Let your child see and experience good behavior and appropriate response to situations. The old adage, "Do as I say, not as I do" just does not work. Children will model what you do, not what you say.
Give your child a sense of power: Give your child an understanding of the structure and boundaries you have created for him/her and then allow your child to experience the needed independence which gives them a sense of power and control over their lives. Allow your child to participate in the family decision-making process (i.e., what color to paint the room, where to go to eat out, what dessert to have). Help guide your child through a logical problem-solving model.
Give your child a sense of connectiveness: Provide strong family traditions for your child. Help and guide your child's involvement in being a part of a group or team: sports, church, clubs, etc. Feeling connected to others is an important psychological need, but there is a point of diminishing returns. Prioritize your child's options and then choose an appropriate number of outside activities to complement his/her life. Three outside activities is the limit. Do not over-book your child.
Parenting is the most important and difficult job for which we will ever apply. The best advice I can give is to lay the strongest foundation for your child's healthy development and then get out of the way and trust your child will "make you proud."
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