Early Childhood Education Training: 5 Smart Ways to Handle "Helicopter" Parents

Is it possible to care for your kids too much? At what point does "helping" and "supporting" turn into "overbearing" and "smothering"?

This is a question you'll find yourself pondering quite often as an early childhood educator (ECE). Or, maybe you're a parent, and have already wondered how much is too much, when it comes to helping your own kids learn and grow.

We're talking about the phenomenon called "helicopter" parenting. In a nutshell, helicopter parents are overly focussed on their children. They "hover" over their every move, and take too much responsibility for their child's failures and successes.

The term "helicopter parent" has been around since the 1960's, and has become so common, it actually earned dictionary status in 2011. 

Ann Dunnewold, Ph. D., a licensed psychologist and author, calls this condition "over-parenting" and describes it as "being involved in a child's life in a way that is over-controlling, overprotecting, and over-perfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting..."

One thing's for sure: you will definitely encounter helicopter parents while working at preschools and daycares.  New parents in particular are prone to this condition, and you'll have to find positive ways to deal with their anxieties and fears. This is something all teachers must face.

So, as you embark on your early childhood education training, and head out into the field, remember these 5 essential tips for handling parents who just can't stop hovering.

1. Take some extra time to listen and address concerns

A parent who seems over-involved may just be worried about a particular issue their child is facing. This may include a learning disability, trouble getting along with other kids, or difficulty adjusting to life away from mum and dad at the daycare.

The parent wants—needs—reassurance that you understand the concern and are willing to work with them on a solution. This is a trust issue. Early childhood educators can save themselves a lot of frustration by simply taking some extra time to listen and respond to the overbearing parent.

Invite them into the daycare or preschool for a talk, and decide on a plan for addressing their worries. Give this parent your full attention and respect—or you'll find yourself repeating this process over and over (and over!) again.

2. Redirect their nervous energy into something useful and meaningful

What do you do when a helicopter parent begins calling you repeatedly on the phone to discuss their child, analyzes your every move in the classroom, or dominates your time with endless questions and "suggestions"?

One way ECEs can handle this is by "re-directing" the helicopter parent's energy toward something genuinely useful. Perhaps there's a fundraiser coming up at the preschool, which they could run? Or, a holiday event or field trip you could use a hand with?

Channel their hovering into something that really helps the children. This will make the parent feel useful and involved (which is what they really want), while giving you more space to do your job.

3. Set clear boundaries & assert your authority

Remember: you have completed early childhood education training, earned your diploma, and know your stuff. While each parents' views are important, and should be respected, you must also set clear boundaries for what is, and is not, acceptable in your classroom.

For example, let parents know that if they wish to have an in-depth meeting about their child, they must set up an appointment ahead of time (instead of constantly dropping in, and demanding your full attention while you're busy with work, or trying to finish up for the day).

Set limits for phone calls and meetings after work hours. Create fixed times every week for parent conferences and progress reports. If you're working under a supervisor, talk to him/her about how to respectfully set boundaries between you and the parents.

It can be tempting to give in to helicopter parents, and respond to their every whim. But it's really important to establish your own expertise and authority in the classroom...both to prove you are a capable ECE, and to keep overbearing parents in check.

4. Record student progress & keep parents fully informed

One of the main triggers for helicopter parents is anxiety about the unknown. What is my child learning? Is he/she progressing ok? What new skills are being taught this month?

Your best defence against this kind of anxiety is to provide information upfront. Let parents know the daily schedule at the daycare or preschool. Explain routines, and outline the learning goals you'll be working on with the kids.

At the beginning of the relationship, talk about your values and approach as an early childhood educator. Discuss how you'll deal with disobedience, the "rules of conduct" for your classroom, and how you'll keep parents updated on their child's progress.

Also, remember to take notes and keep records of each child's learning and development. This is a key part of early childhood education training—learning how to observe and document progress in young children.

If you are upfront about your techniques, keep good records, and explain how you'll be communicating with parents throughout the year, you'll keep "helicoptering" to a minimum.

5. Stay calm, and don't get defensive

Never forget: a helicopter parent is most likely just trying their best to support and protect their child. It may sound like they are doubting your abilities as an ECE, but in reality, they are simply extremely anxious about their child's progress.

So, don't take all the questions and concerns personally. Stay calm, behave professionally, and don't get defensive when a hovering parent picks apart your teaching strategy. Remember that you are the expert. You have successfully completed early childhood education training. You know how to handle this situation with grace and skill.

Keep your emotions in check, follow the steps outlined in this post, and you'll do just fine. Before long, those hovering parents will become your greatest allies. You will work together as a team to encourage a love of learning in every child under your care—your most important goal as an early childhood educator.

Learn more about becoming an early childhood educator

Are you interested in becoming an early childhood educator, and want to learn more about ECE training programs in Montreal? We'd love to hear from you. Herzing College offers Early Childhood Education programs in both English and French, at 2 different Montreal campuses.

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Learn More about Early Childhood Education Training at Herzing