What drives helicopter parenting and spanking?

By | April 19, 2013 | Motherhood & Family

What drives helicopter parenting and spanking?

We hear a lot about the dangers of helicopter and punishment-focused parenting, but I don’t think we’ve considered what drives adults to parent this way. I’m certain that a parent who hovers or hits their child has some belief that it’s in the child’s best interest. What’s the reason behind this?

In order to understand the language behind these two dynamics, we need a quick primer on the brain. For simplicity sake, I use two general terms to describe the areas of the mind: the check-in part where rational, responsive thought comes from, and the freak-out part, or the primitive mind, which drives instinctual and reactionary thoughts.

How can I lump these two seemingly different strategies together? And where do they originate?

The short answer is that when either of these are happening, the parent is receiving instructions from the primitive mind and making decisions based in fear. These are reactions, not responses.

We have lots of data now which tells us that helicoptering (overparenting) and spanking do not help children. In fact, both of these dynamics increase anxiety and sadness. To those who are saying, “I was spanked, but I turned out okay so I’m going to spank my kids too,” please consider that spanking creates tactics for obedience in children – not resilience. Certainly, spanking might achieve this goal or work but it works like stealing achieves financial freedom. Both end up with a goal being met, but this goal could be achieved in a better way.

Most children who are spanked might be kept in line but they are most likely also seething with anger and shutting down the communication flow with the person doing the spanking.

When a child is spanked, yelled at, belittled, and hovered over, the primitive mind becomes more developed. When a child is spoken to calmly, taught to find their words, allowed to experience the natural consequences of their actions, given consistent boundaries, and not shamed when they make mistakes, the check-in mind becomes more developed.

Many of our parents and grand-parents, due to very valid reasons like wartime, the depression, large families, and difficult lives in general, didn’t have time for “affect management” (learning how to calm ourselves down), respect of feelings, or attuned listening. They were happy that all the kids were safe, fed, clothed, and didn’t talk back to adults.

We now realize this dynamic had many benefits – we can thank our parents for great work ethics, the ability to get along with others, pride in doing things for ourselves, a good sense of humor, and a drive for success. We need to accept that the punishment-style of parenting perhaps wasn’t ideal, but at the same time we really love our parents, have many fond memories of childhood, and know they were doing their best. What may have been missed, however, was the development of this check-in mind which many of us now realize helps us to be happier, blow up less, and be less worried.

Thankfully it’s possible to teach children resilience without becoming a parenting doormat. You can still keep kids in line with kindness, firm boundaries, and taking the time to teach them skills.

In order to shift out of helicoptering and aggressiveness, we must learn how to grow and trust this check-in mind. Fortunately, there are many wonderful resources out there to do this.

Like Andrea Nair on Facebook or follow her on Twitter where she constantly posts free articles, workshops, videos on this topic.

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Andrea Nair

Andrea Nair is a psychotherapist and writer in London, Ontario Canada who specializes in the connection between parents and their children. Her therapy background helps the parents Andrea works with to understand, at a deeper level, what to do when kids drift away, behaviour goes wild, buttons are pushed, and old negative self-talk from the parent's childhood rears its head. Through Andrea's novel Stripped Down Running, on-line presence, workshops, and one-on-one counseling, Andrea hopes to bring families closer together. Learn more about Andrea at AndreaNair.com

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