The case against micro-managing one's kids is growing stronger by the day.
The next time your kid gets into a playground dispute, take a deep breath, look the other way, and think about the findings from a new study, just published in the journal Developmental Psychology. The eight-year study has confirmed what many people have suspected for a while -- that hovering too closely around children and micromanaging their interactions with each other can be damaging to their development.
Kids need parents who recognize when they're able to handle emotional situations on their own and step back, as hard as that may be. When a parent fails to do that, it results in a kid not knowing how to act, how to problem solve, or how to socialize at school.
The study followed 422 white and African-American children and checked in with them at ages 2, 5, and 10. Data was collected from observing parent-child interactions, gathering responses from teachers, and self-reports by 10-year-olds. In watching the parents and children play together, the researchers identified helicopter parents as those who were
"constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding. The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration."
The consequences of this treatment reveal themselves later in life, in children who have poorer emotional regulation at age 5. Conversely, those children who were better at emotional regulation and impulse control at age 5 were more productive at school and had more friends by age 10 (and probably had parents who were less exhausted because they don't micro-manage everything).
Nicole Perry, lead author of the study and PhD from the University of Minnesota, said in a statement:
"Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment... Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children’s autonomy with handling emotional challenges."
How does one do this? Set a good example. Talk to kids, always, about how they're feeling, how to use words to defuse a situation, how to communicate what they want. Identify positive coping strategies, Perry suggests, like "deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space." And let them be. Most playground squabbles resolve themselves and the kids will be over it in the amount of time it takes you to get back to your bench. So you might as well stay where you are.