In a previous blog post I spoke about helicopter parenting, and we explored some actual research about what some of the impacts of an overbearing parenting style can be.
Over and above placing strain on both the children’s and parent’s lives, I’m sure many teachers will concur that helicopter parents can have a draining and often times damaging impact on a teacher’s life, affecting the all-important relationship teachers need to have with parents.
You will no doubt already be aware of this, if you have a helicopter parent in the atmosphere of your class, but let’s briefly look at a few common behaviors of the helicopter parent:
- Hovering: Seeking face-time and meetings a lot more regularly than most parents.
- Analyzing: Zeroing in on every assignment, seeking explanation and feedback on every grade.
- Assisting: You may often wonder how much of an assignment was completed by the parent, as opposed to the student.
- Anxiety: Look for signs of struggle everywhere, and are generally distrusting of learning curves or processes, expecting immediate success and results.
Top 3 tips for teachers handling a helicopter parent
As we explored in the previous blog, while overbearing parenting comes from a place of good intentions, it can be damaging to a child’s process and psychology. It can also affect your process as a teacher, and the relationship you have developed with the student.
Let’s look at some basic, practical ways you can limit the anxiety for everyone involved.
Open the door to communication
Start off the year with a guidelines and expectations document that students take home, and ensure parents have read it by asking them to sign it and send it back to you. Some things you can think about including are:
- How students’ learning will be measured over the year
- Your expectations of students
- Rules for behavior in class
- Dress codes
- Recommended reading
- What you require from parents
- A year timetable of activities and projects
- Materials and technology that will be required.
Anxiety peaks in parents when they feel as if they have no insight into what is happening with their child during school, and cannot rely on their children to tell them clearly what is going on with their studies. When they feel that a teacher is also not communicating clearly or consistently then you are bound to find them hovering outside class, or ringing and emailing you at inappropriate times.
Try and set up a schedule for communication, such as a catch up email once or twice a month, that parents know to expect. Obviously it is essential that you stick to this regime, to keep anxiety levels as low as possible. Focus your communication on the behaviors and activities of the child, rather than his or her personality traits, as this is the most helpful to parents.
Set boundaries from the beginning
Helicopter parents are codependent to a degree, and have made an unhealthy egoistic attachment to the achievements of their children, as such they also don’t acknowledge boundaries of others, and don’t recognize that their children also have personal space and rights. In addition they will not accept your rights to privacy.
Try and avoid giving your cell phone number to parents, and perhaps set up a separate email address (distinct from your personal email) where parents can communicate with you. In addition make it very clear when (or indeed if) parents can expect an answer. Indulging their need for constant feedback and communication will not make it better, only worse — unfortunately in some of these situations teachers need to take quite a firm hand.
This would include keeping your principal notified of any hovering parents, so that you can both speak with one voice should he/she be contacted when they can’t get hold of you.
Remind.com is a fantastic, and free, app that lets you communicate with parents directly, immediately and yet also in a manageable way — all without revealing your cell phone number.
Nurture responsibility constantly
Children of helicopter parents have a special need to learn independence and age-appropriate responsibilities. Part of the boundaries a teacher in this situation can draw is to ask the hovering parent to send their child to ask the question after class, as opposed to the parent themselves.
Including the student in the problem solving process is also helpful, so asking them to provide alternative solutions to the problem they have come to you with, empowers them to be part of the solution, and communicates that they are responsible and able to solve many problems on their own.
It helps little to damn the hovering parent, who is simply acting out a suite of their own fears and anxieties in the life of their child. Competition for placement in college, and the nature of the employment market currently demand that children be given the very best head start possible. Many parents, however, misinterpret their role in this head start, and end up needing help letting go and finding healthy ways to guide their children's education and development.
Teachers play a substantial role in this critical phase in a child’s life, and remind us again to applaud, acknowledge and reward our better teachers.