Although the term "helicopter parents" has recently taken hold in our language, nearly every parent is overprotective at times. But in her book, "Permission to Parent: How to Raise Your Child With Love and Limits" (HarperWave), Los Angeles-based psychiatrist Robin Berman wants to raise the red flag for those moms and dads who are overinvested in making their children's lives trouble-free.
Taken to the extreme, overprotective parenting can keep youngsters from developing into full-fledged adults, she says, producing children who are "ill-equipped for the real world because they have never had to tolerate any type of failure."
What's more, she argues, giving in to children's every demand creates an unrealistic world in which to mature, much less succeed.
"If children don't hear 'no' at home, imagine how it will feel when they hear it in the workplace," Berman says. "Protective parenting has created children who feel entitled and who are psychologically fragile because they have too much power and lack resilience because they've never experienced failure."
Berman's book suggests more effective ways to raise kids. "Parenting is not a democracy; it's a benevolent dictatorship," she says. "You have to be very respectful of children's feelings and understand them, but you have to draw the line and set boundaries. Discipline should be fair and consistent and should teach, not punish or shame."
Here is Berman's advice for preparing children to deal with the vicissitudes of adulthood and equipped to enjoy its privileges and satisfactions:
Don't be afraid to say no. Berman points to an example in her own life — when her family decided to buy a dog. Her 9-year-old son had his heart set on a Siberian husky, researched huskies extensively and put photos of them on his bedroom wall. When she told him that a vet recommended they get a dog better suited to their Southern California climate, he cried for hours. But the next day, he started looking up information on other dogs. "Kids are resilient," Berman says. "They bounce back. As a parent you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable if you're doing parenting right, because you have to be able to tolerate your child's suffering and tears and disappointments."
Let children do things for themselves as early as possible. For example, let your toddlers keep trying to zip up their jackets by themselves, even though it's frustrating for them and time-consuming for everybody. Take your hand off the two-wheeler to help your kids learn to ride a bike. They'll zigzag and wobble and may even fall over, but eventually they'll learn to steer and balance. "Real self-esteem comes from mastering a task," Berman says, "and it gives kids a sense of independence."
Let children find their own ways to solve problems. Berman remembers telling her son that she was going to curtail his TV time because he never remembered to put his shoes in their cubbyhole. He questioned how that punishment would help him remember to put his shoes away, and offered to put notes on the cubbyhole and door instead. His solution worked. "Letting children solve their own problems empowers them," says Berman.
Let children experience failure. Berman says that if youngsters forget to take their homework or their lunch to school, parents need to let them experience the consequences. "Let your kid feel the sting of the teacher's disappointment in him, because that will teach him to remember his homework the next time," says Berman. "And let your kid go a little hungry because that hunger is instructive."
Have your children do age-appropriate chores, because they teach youngsters more than just how to do household tasks. "Children will learn about working as a team and helping other people," Berman says. Chores also help them "develop a sense of responsibility and a capacity for empathy rather than entitlement," she adds.
Give your children unstructured time to play on their own so they can learn how to entertain themselves, explore and discover the world and use their imaginations, which enhances creativity. Empty boxes and dress-up clothes offer endless possibilities. Make sure you also find time to have fun playing with them. Berman says home should be a soft place to land.
Praise your children when they have been kind, considerate and have made ethical choices. Although great grades and athletic success are wonderful accomplishments, Berman says that real happiness comes from making connections with other people.
Create memorable family rituals and traditions. It might be a regular family movie night with popcorn, an occasional "international" dinner with food and music from a different country, or a "fancy" candle-lit meal with invitations for family members. Not only do these out-of-the-ordinary events create indelible memories but, Berman says, "these occasions give children a sense of identity and a feeling of belonging."