What does every parent wish for? Ask any parent what their hopes and dreams are for their children and you will get many answers. Typically, “to be happy” and “to lead a life of meaning and purpose” are at the top of the list. Because parents have such deep love and high aspirations for their children, they may unintentionally begin to use a “helicopter approach” to parenting. 

“Helicopter parenting” refers to a parenting style in which moms and dads “hover” over their child and pay exceptionally close attention to their child’s problems and experiences. Helicopter parents try to resolve their child’s problems and make efforts to stop negative experiences from happening. The intention of this parenting style is positive however, children need all types of social experiences to learn the skills needed for positive relationships and life success. Sometimes good intentions (“I love my child so much I want to protect them from upsetting experiences and feelings”) can actually have a reverse effect on a child by not allowing him/her to work through social problems independently.

Seven Keys for Helping Grow Your Child’s Emotional Well-Being and Resilience

The founders of Kimochis™, creators of toys designed to facilitate family communication, have studied the challenges and opportunities of helping children make sense of their emotional experience. After years of teaching in schools and collaborating with educators, seven keys to effective emotional communication have been developed. The seven Keys to Communication recommended by the Kimochis™ team provide tips and tricks for helping children navigate through upsetting emotions. The keys include strategies for parents to use when they struggle to manage their own emotions and want to rescue their child from an upset feeling. Always remember that when you do not allow your child to experience, learn, and grow from challenging moments, the less practice he/she will have to master these important life skills. After all, we do not do our child’s math homework for them. We want them to learn how to do it themselves. We know that children need to practice math facts to hone their skills. The same goes for social and emotional skills. Yet, sometimes we accidentally give our children more emotional help than needed in upsetting social situations. Modeling how to cope with upset feelings and coaching your child with what they can say and do are ways to teach your child the social-emotional skills needed to navigate life situations. 

Key 1 Eye contact                        

Why this Key is important

The way we use our eyes when we speak and listen can result in a positive, neutral, or negative connection.  Squinting eyes may send the message that we want to solve our child’s problem. Overly worried eyes could send the message that problems and upset feelings are bad. Become more aware of using compassionate eye contact that shows confidence in your child’s ability to learn from difficult social experiences.

Communication Concepts and Tools
  • Helicopter parents use troubled or overly worried eyes that send the following nonverbal message – “Problems are upsetting, and should immediately be fixed. I will help make it happen.”
  • Use eye contact that is relaxed and calm ands ends the message that youcare and are confident in your child’s ability to think through and resolve difficult social situations.
  • Self-talk Ask yourself whether your eyes send this message – “Tell me more. I am here to listen and am confident you can work through this.” 
  • Talk about talking Ask family members if your eyes send a caring message. For example, “When I listen, sometimes I squint. Do you know this means I care and am listening?”

Key 2 Tone of voice

Why this Key is important

How we use our tone of voice is very significant. In fact, studies show that 30% of how you come across to a listener is through your tone of voice. When we get in the “habit” of speaking in a calm talking voice, we raise the odds that people will listen and keep a positive connection. Your tone can also encourage (or discourage) your child to do their own problem-solving. It is easy to “accidentally” use a stressed tone of voice that sends the message that you are not confident in your child’s ability to learn from mistakes and handle life’s challenging moments.

Communication Concepts and Tools
  • Helicopter parents use voices that convey feelings of alarm or the message, “You can’t do this without my help.”  These voices may make a child have doubts about their own abilities to deal and manage upset. They are often louder in volume and concern than is warranted for the situation.
  • Use a calm, compassionate and caring tone of voice. It sends this message, “It sounds like you have a big feeling or problem. I bet you can make things better.”
  • Self-talk Pay attention to what your voice is saying. Ask yourself, “Does my child hear that I believe in him/her? Does she/he understand that I know some things are hard and I am here to listen and think with him/her?”
  • Listening noises and short compassionate statements can convey you care and understand. Using these will keep you from using words that might interfere with your child doing their own thinking and feeling. Examples are, “Oh, I’m sorry. Darn. That’s hard.”

Key 3 Facial Expression and Body Language

Why this Key is important

Studies show that our faces and body language convey 60% of our communication message when we are both listening and speaking! Many people are unaware of their nonverbal habits that might negatively influence their connections with others. For example, some people may have a facial expression and eyes that look serious or mad when they truly are listening from the heart. 

  • Helicopter parents use facial expressions and body language that look tense, judging or overly concerned. This may be upsetting and misinterpreted by some children. For example, when your child is sharing why they do not like school or a friend, be careful not to look mad or overly concerned. 
  • Use facial expressions and body language that are calm, relaxed and open. These nonverbals communicate, “I get what you are feeling, but this is your feeling to have. Therefore, I look caring and understanding rather than mad or worried when you tell me about a bad experience with a classmate.”
  • Self-talkAsk yourself, “What are my face and body saying? If I am showing fear or anger, can I switch to a face that communicates a caring and empathic message? “
  •  Talk about talking. Decide to increase your awareness of your facial expression and body language. Talk with family members about your mannerisms to be sure that you are sending positive nonverbal messages. You could share, “I realize that when I am listening to something upsetting I squint my eyes. I hope you all know that this means I am listening really hard and really care.”

Key 4 Choose helping words

Why this Key is important

It is always important to truly consider the words we choose when children are upset rather than speaking from habit. We have all had experiences in which we said something and thought, ‘why did I say that?’ For example, your child tells you something that happened that was upsetting and you make a comment that you know is not your best response. You were feeling emotional…did not stop to think…pause…and choose your best words.

  • Helicopter parents use words that tend to start with “wh” or questions that probe for pain. “What did he say? Where was the teacher? Why did you do that? Did you say something to start it?” Helicopter parents also tend to use words to tell a child what to say and do. “I think you should stay away from her. I think you should tell her that you need to take a break from playing.”
  • Use words to help the child think and feel for themselves. These words help children develop the skills that will teach them to “bounce back” (to be resilient) and learn to make upsetting situations better independently. For example, “You really understand what made you feel mad. I wonder what you are thinking that might make things better for you and your friend Charlotte?”
  • Self-talk Ask yourself, “Am I using words that give my child the learning experience?”
  • Comment rather than question (less is best when it comes to talking) It is a common habit to use a series of questions as a way to find out information and get close to our child. “How was your day? Who did you play with? What did you eat?” Consider switching to a comment and pause style, which is more conversational and actually helps to build a stronger connection. “I am so happy to see you.” (Smile, rub back, walk and be quiet.) “I see a painting that looks like you enjoyed being creative.” (Look at picture, keep mouth quiet, smile and wait so your child has a chance to talk.)

Key 5 Be brave and re-do communication mistakes

Why this Key is important

Everyone makes mistakes that can result in regret and shame. Parents can model and coach children to get in the habit of listening to themselves and observing what they do. It is then possible to re-do words and actions that were perhaps not the best choice.

  • Helicopter parents tend to immediately move into a “solve and fix mode.” This style does not teach children to be aware of their own words and actions. For example, when our child says or does something inappropriate, we tell them what not to do, “Don’t yell at your brother.”
  • Understand that no one can always stay in control when feeling upset. But, parents can coach children to be brave and re-do regretful moments. For example, “I can see that you are mad because your brother barged in your room. I would like to hear you use your talking face and voice when you ask him to knock on the door.”
  • Self-talk Ask yourself, “Am I proud of the way I sounded and looked? Did I like my words and actions?” If not, name it (“I am yelling and want to start again”) and try again (“Let me start over”).
  • Do-Overs We usually pay attention to the words we write on paper. The same can be true of words we speak. Develop the Kimochis™ habit of being aware of how you sound, how you look, and the words you choose when your child is feeling upset. When you realize that you have slipped into helicopter parenting because of your own feelings of fear or shame, stop. Name what you are doing, and start again. For example, “I just interrupted you, Bradley and started telling you how to handle your upset feelings with your friend Kevin. I will start again and practice being a better listener because I am confident you have some solutions that might make things better for you two.”

Key 6 Be kind and let people try again

Why this Key is important

It is important to learn how to be forgiving, resilient and generous of heart. When your child is wronged, it is easy to reactively overprotect them. Our role is to help them remember that everyone makes mistakes and we can let others try again!

  • Helicopter parents tend to forget to model and coach how to forgive and bounce back. “I don’t want you going near Stephanie.”
  • Help a child become aware of an unhealthy pattern in a relationship. “It sounds like Karen needs to learn how to share.” In addition, you can coach your child to choose to be kind and forgive. “I wonder if you can practice forgiving Karen because she still struggles with sharing.”
  • Self-talk Ask yourself, I feel mad that another child hurt my child’s feelings, but are my face, voice, and words communicating that it is important to accept a sincere apology and move on?”

Key 7 Assume the best

Why this Key is important

You can help your child “train the brain” to think the best, rather than assume the worst about what others are doing or saying. Some people have the habit of immediately assuming the worst. They may think, “When I see two people talking quietly, I know they are talking about me” instead of thinking the best, “They must need privacy.” The thoughts you choose matter. Assuming the best promotes a peaceful response and leads to happier, friendlier relationships.

  • Helicopter parents forget to assume the best. This style of communication can unintentionally encourage children to stick up for themselves in a way that is defensive and aggressive rather than peaceful and assertive. “He doesn’t have the right to say that to you.” “I hope you told the teacher.” “I’ll talk to his mother.”
  • Model how a child can understand another’s point of view or humanness. “I can’t imagine Peter meant to hurt your feelings. What do you think he might have been feeling that would cause him to yell at you? Have you had a chance to tell him how you feel?”
  • Self-talkAsk yourself, “Am I noticing when my child is able to assume the best? I could say, ‘I really admire that you can remember that Tom is still working on not yelling when he is upset.’” “Am I modeling and coaching my child to assume the best? I could say, ‘Why do you think Keith grabbed instead of asking for a turn? Do you think he is worried that he won’t get a turn?’”

In an increasingly competitive and busy world where families are overwhelmed and bombarded with distractions, it is easy for parents to accidentally fall into a helicopter parenting style. The helicopter mode of parenting might actually be necessary for some of the BIG things that happen in your child’s life (every child needs a sound helicopter pad to land on once in awhile), but it’s important to balance the overprotective instinct. The seven Keys to Communication recommended by the Kimochis™ team are simple tools that can make a big difference in helping parents step back, encourage and guide children to handle life’s challenging moments with character and confidence. What more could a parent wish for?