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Our children are able to experience the world by themselves, we just don’t let them try, out of fear.
Research shows that in news broadcasting, negative subjects outweigh the positives by far. We hear awful stories, the kind that makes us shiver. The ones we miss are told to us by family, friends, and neighbors. In Western countries, we have this feeling that we are somehow (though we can’t really explain why) always in some kind of danger.
This constant (and uncomfortable) underlying feeling of fear guides our choices, especially when it comes to our children. Because we want them safe, we want them protected. But are you doing it in the best way? Are you helping your children? Are you using the correct method?
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Children Need To Grow Up (Someday)
One of the first problems that arise from this over-zealous protection is that children take forever to grow up if they ever do so. We already results of this. Children stay longer and depend more on their parents. In the US, 52% of young adults (18-29 yo) were living with one or both of their parents. The pandemic has a little role in it, but in February last year, the number was already 47%. And more than half of the children who leave their parent’s home will return at some point.
This is not a problem in itself, as a multi-generational household has been the human standard since the dawn of time, but the tradition has always been to live together to make it easier for everyone. Our children, coming out of a comfy and safe cocoons, might find the real world to be harsh, and feel like they don’t have the shoulders for it. Living with mom and dad takes a lot of responsibilities off their shoulders, they save money, and don’t have to do chores they would have to in their own place.
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Let’s make it clear: if you treat your 12 yo child as if he was 5, you cannot expect them to behave like a 12 yo. Well, if you helicopter your children during their whole childhood, you cannot expect them to become autonomous adults.
To Become Capable, You Need To Practice
Autonomy used to be a fundamental skill we taught to children. But in a couple of generations, this changed drastically. In an article from the daily mail, an example is given of a family of 4 generations. While the great-grandfather was allowed to roam up to 6 miles from home to go fishing, his great-grandson is only allowed to walk by himself until the end of the street (300 yards).
I was curious so I asked my grandpa. He told me that as a child he was to deliver the milk before going to school and would walks miles by himself. In the winter, that meant in the cold dark weather. On Sundays, he would take a horse and go on rides wherever he’d fancy going (as long as he didn’t make the horse sweat, that was the rule).
But, what about today? The other night my daughter (she’s 10) had a dance lesson, she went and was supposed to come back by herself (we currently live in a small mountain village). At 7 pm it was already dark, but she had lamp. There was a light rain, but she had her raincoat. A mom from the dance class saw her and drove her home (even tough it was a six minute walk, I checked) and asked my daughter how her mom could let her walk alone at night. My daughter looked at me like I was the worst mother ever.
This roaming range is an interesting example of how children’s freedom is being reduced every day in the name of security. But how are they ever going to be able to find their way, overcome stressful situations, grow self-confidence, become curious and resilient if they never have a chance to practice?
While you feel like you’re protecting your children, you are also creating new problems for them, and far likely that this dreadful kidnapping you’re afraid of.
Consequences Of A Lack Of Freedom (And Trust)
The main problem here is that helicopter moms think on a short term basis: the street is dangerous, if my child rides their bike, they might have an accident. The thing is, one day they will be a teen, and later a young adult. When will they have practiced those street behavior skills? Your teenager will have to learn by themselves, but they will lack confidence. Or, you plan on giving rides until your child Reaches a certain age? And what then? They will become grown-ups with no experience…
Let me ask you something: When you don’t let your child ride their bike in the neighborhood without supervision, how much of this decision is for your own comfort? So you don’t have to worry?
You might ask, what is the age to be allowed to ride alone then? That’s an interesting question, it depends on how much autonomy you taught your child. From 10 yo, a child is usually able to ride his bike on known streets, where dangers have been pointed out already several times. Of course, it is more time and energy-consuming to teach your child to ride their bike, to let them practice in a safe environment and to evaluate their skills before letting him go alone, than it is to go along with them to oversee.
But, if you put in the time, you only have to do the job once and you’re good for life. Your child will not only practice their autonomy but they will grow their self-confidence and will nurture their curiosity by filling their adventurous needs. And, you won’t have to drive them everywhere for the next 10 years.
Another important part of this childhood freedom is the connection with nature. As moms, we have plenty to do and cannot spend 2 hours a day in the forest, park, or other natural playgrounds. A report from Dr William Bird, the health adviser to Natural England, shows that nowadays, children are more likely to develop mental health issues because of their lack of contact with nature. Natural spaces are proven to reduce stress within minutes. The thing is, for nature to be a remedy for the stressful adult life, children need to develop a healthy relationship with it from a young age.
Mothers, Here Are The Essential Life Skills Your Child Needs
UNICEF, UNESCO and WHO list ten core life skills:
- critical thinking
- effective communication skills
- creative thinking
- interpersonal relationship skills
- self-awareness building skills
- coping with stress
- coping with emotions
These skills are needed for a balanced and healthy life. With those abilities, children learn to discern opportunities and to prepare to face possible threats. They can become a healthy part of society and live a fulfilling life.
If you take a good look at those skills, you can practice them all at home. Surely then, your children may grow those skills even with a super helicopter mom, no? It is not that simple. First of all, if you’re a helicopter mom, chances are your child doesn’t get to do a lot of problem-solving: You’re here for them. Same for decision-making and creative thinking (choosing the dinner menu isn’t a decision-making exercise, nor painting in the living room is creative thinking).
Children need real problems and challenges to face. And they need to face them alone. You don’t abandon them, but you give them a chance to solve it by themselves, to come up with a creative solution, to evaluate their abilities, to make a decision, and to cope with stress and emotions.
Why Being Bold Is Hard When You’re A Mom?
There are several reasons of course, and you could argue that they are all good. Let’s see what I’ve heard (or told myself) over the years as a child care social worker.
- It’s out of love. “I love them so much, I want to protect them.”
This one is not easy to debate with, for a mother’s love is fierce. But love isn’t about keeping loved ones for ourselves, it’s about trust and encouragement.
- It’s out of foresight. “I want to prepare them for the real world.”
Our children represent the most protected generation ever. And we, their parents, were already overprotected. We just can’t let them go. But when does it stop? Will you call their first boss if they”re not nice to your child? Will you visit universities with your adult child?
- It’s out of empathy. “Life will be hard soon enough.”
In my opinion, life can suck from the start. But I don’t like the “hard life” way of thinking nonetheless. I’d rather say that life can be challenging, and that the best way to be prepared is to learn to overcome challenges. If a child cannot start with simple challenges that have small consequences, how will they manage big ones? Will they have to call you? What will they do when you’re there anymore then?
- It’s out of pride. “I know better.”
This one makes me think of the Rapunzel movie, do you know that song: “Mother knows best”? That’s really who you want to be? You can ask yourself why do you know better. Because you have more experience perhaps? And how did you acquire that experience? That’s right, through challenges!
- It’s out of tradition. “I was raised this way.”
Many of us already have parents who were helicopter parents themselves. I could play with friends in the neighborhood but my mom made the world sounds very scary “don’t go near the corn fields, there might be rapists! “(I mean, rapists in the cornfields?), “don’t speak to strangers!” (but be polite).
Mothers, Be Bold
A French psychiatrist said that we are not more responsible of our phobias than we would of an allergy. Fear is a very strong emotion, and it is sometimes hard to tell if it’s justified or not. We can feel it in our body, sweat, chill, paralysis,…
Our body always reacts faster than our mind, which is why fear escapes our will
– Christophe André, French Psychiatrist
So what you do when feel that fear is overwhelming and make you adamant that your children should not play where you can’t see them?
Do you have a rebel in you? Now is the time to hear her! You can consider your fear as a squatter in your mind, and decide not to be controlled by it.
- Get back to your body
When your body gets informations of potential danger, it reacts a certain way: The brain starts to create scary stories. By taking deep breaths, you silence your brain and prevent it from taking dramatic paths where everyone ends up suffering terribly.
- Be mindful
Learn to differentiate the taste of the fruit from the memory of its taste. Does your daughter want to sleepover with her best friend? Just because you did not have fun during sleepovers, that your daughter won’t! (I remember a terrible storm when I was at a friend’s place and I have been apprehensive of sleepovers since)
- Fear or anxiety?
Fear is an emotion we feel when there is a concrete danger (a nasty barking dog for instance), anxiety is more diffuse and is about a threat that might happen in the future. Do not let anxiety control you!
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Helicopter moms, and other “hen moms” as we call them in French, want to be in control. They need to control their children’s lives to make sure they are safe. Funny thing is, they are themselves controlled by their fears. So, their children are being raised by fear too.
One day, in a webinar, I heard something that changed my parenting for ever, so let me share it with you today. Next time you have to make a decision, next time your child asks to go play to the park or ride a bike with their friends, ask yourself this:
“Where does your decision comes from: is it from a place of fear, or a place of love?”
Thanks for reading this article! As always, I hope it gave you some line of thoughts to explore as well as ideas to act and create a positive change in your life.
Don’t let the inspiration fades and take action right away:
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I wish you all the best with your kids, always remember that we all do the best we can at a given moment and don’t judge yourself harshly. Be confident and listen to your intuition. If what you do comes from a place of love, then you’re on the right path.
See you next week for another exciting article!
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