toddler sitting in passenger seat of helicopter with Dad in pilot's seat


It’s sometimes referred to as “helicopter parenting”– hovering over your child and becoming overly involved in their life, including taking on tasks they should be doing, as well as rescuing them from anything remotely unpleasant. Then there’s “snowplough” or “bulldozer” parenting: smoothing over every possible problem in their path. Of course, parents have a duty to love and shield their kids from genuine danger and harm. But the damage of overdoing it, especially in the long term, is real.

Parents are told that they need to be involved in their kids’ lives, and that supervision and monitoring helps prevent them getting into serious strife. No-one would wish on their own kids something that’s either physical or emotionally damaging or harmful to them. But, at the same time, you can get a situation where kids become overly reliant on their parents doing too much for them.


It’s almost as though some parents can’t tolerate the idea of their kids being exposed to any threat, any risk or any possibility of failure. In the end, that’s bad for their self-esteem because they lack confidence in their own ability to handle problems and face challenges. It’s all about balance.

While it’s natural to want to protect your child, it’s impossible to protect from every disappointment, because life can be a little bit of a rollercoaster and we have ups and downs; kids have good days and not-so-good days. Coping with setbacks and disappointments is part of life.

When you cross the line to the extent that you’re trying to prevent anything disappointing or difficult ever occurring in a child’s life, what you’re doing is preventing the child learning through their own experience. Within reason, kids need to be allowed to make mistakes; to learn through their mistakes and not repeat them.


Parents need to let kids experience reasonable levels of risk, failure and disappointment, while emotionally supporting children to get over these hurdles without doing it all for them. Of course, you can’t just throw your child into the world and expect them to cope. The younger a child is, the more they’ll need your emotional support.

But when a child is old enough, rather than simply reassuring them when a problem occurs, you can also let them know that you understand their feelings, and that you’ll help them work out ways that THEY can deal with difficult or challenging situations.

As kids get older, gradually step back and do just enough to help them manage the situation and get over it, and no more than that.


How we cope with disappointment in our own lives will have a big influence on how children react to disappointing or difficult events in their lives. Ideally, they see that even though parents will sometimes become concerned and upset, they can talk about it, treat it as a challenge or minor setback, and then develop a way forward. This teaches kids that occasional setbacks are normal and problems can be solved. 

If your own parents weren’t able to model this for you as a child, it may be difficult for you, also. In many ways, part of our role as parents is to work out what WE might need help with, in order to help our kids.

Over and over again, we find that helping parents develop new skills and strategies to handle challenging or difficult behaviour within the family environment means they also develop new ways of dealing with life in general.