You are not a helicopter: A basic concept for raising Independent Kids
For those of you that don't know, a helicopter caregiver is some that literally hovers around or in the general vicinity of their child, ALL. THE. TIME. You and your child are together during mealtime, playtime, bathroom time!
First things first, my area of expertise is newborn to about 5 years old so those are the kids and parents that I'll be talking about in this post. I'll admit that when I began my journey as a caregiver, I was guilty of the Helicopter Hover. I didn't want to be seen as someone who wasn't engaging, wasn't entertaining, and most importantly, wasn't care giving! After 15 years of raising children though, I've come to realize that nothing good comes from being a helicopter caregiver. Both your child AND you suffer from the codependent environment this creates. I've found that children are less independent, less confident when completing tasks they are unsure of, and spend a good majority of their day worrying about where their caregiver is. The resentment and frustration of a parent who was just trying to use the bathroom in peace but instead heard knocks on the door followed by "Are you done yet? or "Can I come in?" is palpable. I don't have enough fingers and toes to be able to count the times I've had to pee with a toddler standing there waiting for me because they didn't know what to do with themselves alone for 90 seconds.
If at this moment, you're thinking "When WAS the last time I peed by myself?", have no fear. I have a very simple solution to give you a moment to breathe and to help teach your child to solo play. Me Time, You Time is basic but incredibly easy to accomplish. Here's how it works; For children aged 3 months to about 2 years, place them in a safe space with plenty of room to move about. Include in that space options of toys and soft books. Tell them that you'll be right back and then leave the room. Easy peasy! Make sure to keep them within earshot and it's totally ok to give a peek every once in awhile, just make sure they don't see you. If they start to cry, call out to them that you're just in the next room and you'll be right back but DO NOT go back in there. Let them discover their surroundings and it's ok to let them cry for a moment. It's natural to have feelings of sadness when someone you love leaves, if only for a moment. Start in small increments but do not exceed ten minutes. You want to make them feel ok with being alone but you don't want them to feel abandoned.
For children aged about 2 years and up, after having your usual together time, explain to them that you are going to have Me Time and they are going to have You Time. Let them know that everyone needs to take time to be by themselves and it's good to be by yourself. Do NOT use vocabulary that suggest YOU need space from THEM. This is super important so your child doesn't feel like you're tired of being around them or don't WANT to be around them. Tell them that you are going to go into the kitchen, have a cup of tea and think about what a great morning you've had. Instruct that they are allowed in whatever room they want (that they're allowed to be in!) but they are not to call out to you and they are not to come into the kitchen. Let them know that they can choose to do whatever they want with their time but DO NOT give them a specific task to complete. Feel free to make several suggestions like doing puzzles, coloring, or dancing, just to get the ball rolling and tell them that you can't wait to hear about how they spent You Time after it's up. You might have to give a friendly reminder that you're having Me Time when they inevitably call out to you but just speak calmly and remind them that Me Time, You Time won't be up until the time has been completed uninterrupted. Start in 5 minute increments but work your way up to 45 or even an hour. This can eventually replace nap time once your child phases out of them. Remember to keep them in earshot and again, it's ok to peek in and check on them but don't let them see you. If they do, just say you were just passing by and Me Time, You Time isn't up yet. Most importantly, really take Me Time as...well...Me Time!
Let it be known that this is not the time where you plop your child down in front of a screen and they zone out for 24 minutes with a screen 3 inches from their face. You child's codependence only transfers from you to a technologically based babysitter. It's not fair to your child and it does nothing to help their independence or creativity.
It's ok to feel weirded out that you're not with your constant companion but remind yourself that you're SHOWING your child it's ok to be alone, you're fostering their independence, and most importantly, you're allowing them to stretch their creativity. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn how they spent their time and you might even learn something new about your child AND yourself!
Do you already take a version of Me Time, You Time? What are your thoughts on the concept?
(DISCLAIMER: While there have been studies that show a positive outcome in children that have helicopter parents, those positives only apply to college aged individuals. By that point, I'd say it's less of being a helicopter parent and more of holding a practically adult person accountable for being a decent human being. )