Am I a Hyper Parent?

Last night I watched a documentary titled, “Hyper Parenting –Coddled Kids” with keen interest and a lot of self-reflection. After years of being the teacher in this situation…

Could I now be a blossoming Hyper Parent?

The Hyper parent also known as the Helicopter Parent is commonly referred to as a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child. In particular the Hyper parent focuses on the child’s problems and educational institutions. Similarly, Lawnmower parents given the chance would smooth the path before their children and mow down any obstacles they may come across.

Am I a Hyper Parent? If so, is that such a bad thing?

My Mum came to visit yesterday and quoted a doctor who advised that if a child has not eaten a bucket of dirt by the time they are five they have missed the chance to develop resistance to all kinds of allergies and illnesses. Now by no means is he suggesting we serve up bowls of dirt for dinner but the message is that perhaps we are protecting our children from too much.

At a time when my daughter is now completely mobile and into everything I am given cause to stop and assess my responses to the danger she faces.

As a parent I see danger everywhere. Dangers I didn’t know existed prior to giving birth. Suddenly the whole world seems to be made up of sharp edges, pointy ends and uneven surfaces. I constantly feel the need to protect my baby girl from the big, bad world but I am also educated to know the value of making mistakes so that she may develop resilience and empathy for others.

Last night’s documentary quoted the findings of Sergio Pellis who has researched the role of rough-housing and such play in brain development. The research has shown that children allowed to engage in a little rough housing develop more skills in decision making relating to social situations. They have a greater understanding of the nuances of social interaction. Another message that it’s okay to spend a little time getting down and dirty when playing. It seems in our current society our children are engaged in more adult enforced play and less child-oriented free play. It is a symptom of helicopter or hyper parenting and it’s not doing our children any favours.

Organised activities make us feel that we are doing the right thing by our children. Our weeks consist of swimming lessons, music classes, soccer clubs, playgroups and school. All that we feel we must do to enrich our children’s lives so that they may achieve / succeed / thrive. A few weeks ago I was at one such activity watching the end of term Soccer game. At the end everyone received a medal for the game. One of the little four-year old boys started crying and I heard him say to his Mum, “It’s not fair I kicked three goals and I got the same medal as them and they weren’t playing.” And he was right… the boys he referred to were sitting in the middle of the pitch watching ants returning to their colony whilst the game went on around them. It begs the question, Should kids get a trophy just for showing up?

At 11 months of age my daughter has two activities that she participates in on a weekly basis. The first is Swimming and the second is Music. She loves them and I wouldn’t miss them for anything because she beams with the broadest smile when doing both. I was recently challenged though when all her little friends were enrolled in a play class and she didn’t like it. She didn’t respond to the teacher and showed no enthusiasm or delight. And believe me…when she likes something you know it! I had to make the call… keep going to a class that was of no benefit or pull out and risk that she was not enriched by something that the others in her peer group were getting. After last night’s documentary and what they had to say on a similar situation, I am proud to say we withdrew from the class, I got over my guilt and can honestly say she hasn’t missed out. Perhaps I am not a complete Hyper Parent after all?

In recent times there has been an explosion of products on sale to develop early learning. We are all pressured to spend up big to ensure our kids have the right educational toys, learn to read before they can walk and listen to the right music from conception. Parents are spending more and more in efforts to stimulate their babies as much as possible. No wonder those same parents are then turning in desperation to experts for help in getting their babies to sleep! These mini-geniuses in the making are so over-stimulated they can’t switch their brains to sleep mode. I would hate to think that good parenting is equated with purchasing power. Yet we all fall into the trap at one time or another.  What if I don’t buy the Fisher Price Shape Sorter? Will my baby never be able to put a shape into the right hole? My wise friend has made a wonderful toy for her baby – it’s a cardboard tissue box with the plastic removed. Her beautiful baby spends ages placing objects into the box and then shaking them out. How clever! And the best thing about it is that it’s not for lack of money, it’s because her daughter did it by chance one day and Mum embraced it. Child directed play and a golden learning moment.

There is no doubt about the pressure we all feel as parents today. The right preschool leads to the right primary school then the right high school and then gets you the right life! Once you buy into the logic it’s hard to argue the price. But this potential Helicopter parent is going to touch down on the helipad for a little while and take a breather.

Our baby is happy. Our baby is healthy. Our baby is safe. Our baby is loved.

Everything else will follow on from that.

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