Dealing with Helicopter Parents: Lessons from Kindergarten

One of the worst jobs I had in graduate school was as a bouncer. No, I wasn’t working outside of a bar or nightclub. I was working new student orientation. My job was to make sure that students went in alone and registered for campus services. Parents and other family members had to wait outside. It was an interesting summer and some parents understood. However, there were a few that were quite unhappy. Dealing with helicopter parents can be frustrating for everyone involved.

Dealing with Helicopter Parents

Photo credit: Rainer Hungershausen

Today marks a personal parenting milestone for me. My youngest child, Daniel, starts kindergarten today. While he is both excited and a little nervous, I’m thrilled to get rid of daycare bills! I’ve been struck in the last couple of weeks about the advice and tips given to kindergarten parents. Might this advice also be useful for dealing with helicopter parents.

1. Walk your child to the classroom for the first two days. After that, let them do it on their own.

We can’t expect parents to drop their kids off at college and walk away. Yet, students need to learn to do it on their own. Colleges need to understand the transition for students and parents. Provide useful and productive strategies that helps both students and parents learn to let go.

2. It is important that your child knows how to re-dress him or herself after using the bathroom.

The primary responsibilities of parenting are keeping your kid safe and preparing them for the world. I would hope every kindergartener knows how to go to the bathroom without help. However, I’m sure this wouldn’t be listed if it wasn’t a problem in the past.

As colleges, do we assume students and parents know what to do to prepare for higher education? In particular, what advice should we give for parents to help their children with the nonacademic parts of life? Students need to deal with finances, social situations, and other responsibilities that they may not have had experience with in high school. Helping parents know what to communicate with their children can help everyone.

3. The purpose of kindergarten homework is to teach the responsibility and routine of taking work home, completing it well and neatly, and bringing it back to school.

The role of kindergarten is to start a foundation of learning that will help students in later grades. It isn’t the job of kindergarten to prepare students for a career or college (although developing a foundation will ultimately help them). We need to clearly communicate to parents about the purpose of an undergraduate education. Ideally, this is done during the recruiting process, but parents often aren’t prepared to hear this during that stressful period.

Colleges can help by frequently stressing the purpose of higher education both inside and outside of the classroom. If we clearly and repeatedly communicate this message to parents, it will help provide context to the work, rules, and expectations that we have for college students.

4. Please read at home with your child every night!

We know reading is a key to success for students particularly during their early years of schooling. Schools encourage parents to read or have their students read at least 15 minutes every night. The power of this message is that it gives parents something productive to do for their students. Most of the advice we give to the parents of college students consists of what not to do. Don’t just show up at their dorm. Don’t communicate with their professors. Don’t be overbearing. Don’t… Don’t…Don’t… Just like parenting, encouraging positive behavior works far better.

There are many things we can ask parents to do. Encourage your student to visit office hours. Make sure your student meets their advisor. Help your kid think about how to get knowledge from outside their major. There are any number of things we would like to see parents do to help their students. Let them know and encourage positive college parenting behaviors.

Last week at SMU’s Teaching Effectiveness Symposium, Stephanie Dupaul, our associate provost for enrollment management, gave a presentation about today’s college students and parents. Her admonition about parents was particularly powerful. “Remember,” she said, “these parents have been enormously successful. Their child is among the top 10% of all students nationally. Why would we expect them to change?” This is such a simple idea, but so significant.

Helicopter parents have worked with schools and their children this way for years. They have seen their children excel academically and make it to college. If we don’t consider this in dealing with helicopter parents, we’re unlikely to see the behaviors that we want to encourage.

Kindergarten teachers know they need to provide guidelines for students and parents. Maybe it is time for higher education to go back to kindergarten.

(Visited 82 times, 1 visits today)