Parenting is a challenge, especially in today’s post-pandemic world. It certainly wasn’t easy raising my own three daughters.
I don’t take credit for their accomplishments, but all three grew up to be highly skilled individuals. Susan is CEO of YouTube, Janet is a doctor, and Anne is co-founder and CEO of 23andMe. They rose to the top of highly competitive, male-dominated professions.
When I was writing my book, How to Raise Successful People, I received so many questions about different approaches to parenting. But what everyone really wanted to know was: “What is that worst parenting style?”
Based on my experience and research, I believe that “helicopter parenting” is the most toxic.
What is helicopter parenting?
Helicopter parenting — sometimes called “snowplow parenting” — is when you constantly remove obstacles so your kids don’t have to deal with challenges and frustrations.
This form of over-involvement disempowers children; You essentially do everything for them and make sure that all of their needs are met even before you know they have a need.
Helicopter parents have the best of intentions, but the results are the opposite of what they want – they produce children who are afraid to take risks, always need help, and lack creativity.
My friend Maye Musk, a successful model and the mother of Elon Musk, agrees about the harmful effects of helicopter parenting.
She never checked her children’s homework. She could not. She worked five jobs to make ends meet. When her homework required a parent’s approval, she would let them practice their signature so they could sign for her.
“I didn’t have time,” she told me, “and it was her job.”
That’s exactly what children need today – not to be controlled or overprotected, but to be allowed to take responsibility for their own lives.
Parenting Styles: It’s about finding a balance
On the other hand, parents shouldn’t go to the other extreme. They don’t send children shopping alone when they’re five or expect them to cook dinner by the time they’re ten. Give them age-appropriate challenges.
The goal is for them to be proud of their work, work that is theirs alone. They build independence skills and also learn to help around the house.
This can be when cooking in the kitchen, for example. We all cook. Teach your child how to make their own breakfast. You can pour cereal and milk. Bigger kids can make scrambled eggs. Or they can all learn to make a salad. It’s that easy: wash the lettuce, chop the tomato or avocado, add the dressing… and voilà!
If your child has never cooked before, they may not feel capable of cooking anything without someone watching them. Most children do not know how to make something for themselves. I wish I was joking, but I’m not.
Both parents and teachers can empower children to be independent thinkers, collaborate with their peers, and build their confidence.
I recommend the following TRICK, an acronym for Trust, Respect, Independence, Cooperation and Kindness:
- Trust: Trust has to start with us, the parents. When we are confident in the choices we make, we can have confidence in our children taking the necessary steps toward empowerment.
- Respect: Every child has a gift, and it is our responsibility to nurture that gift. This is the opposite of telling them who they should be, what job they should do, and how they want their lives to be.
- Independence: This is built on a strong foundation of trust and respect. Truly independent children are able to cope with adversity, setbacks, and boredom—all inevitable aspects of life.
- Cooperation: Collaboration means working together as a family, in the classroom, or in the workplace. For parents, it means encouraging children to engage in discussion, decision-making, and even discipline.
- Friendliness: Genuine kindness involves gratitude and forgiveness, service to others, and an awareness of the world outside of you.
Give yourself a break and stop monitoring your kids. Let them help and guide. You will appreciate it, grow up more independent and believe in yourself.
Start by letting your kids decide what they want to do this weekend, maybe even plan something for the whole family. Imagine how empowered they will feel.
Esther Wojcicki is an educator, journalist and best-selling author of “How to raise successful people.” She is also co-founder of tract, where she brings her student-centered teaching philosophy to classrooms around the world. Follow her on Twitter @EstherWojcicki.