Parenting small kids has always been a nerve-shredding business. Then along came the global pandemic. Suddenly the demands become even more relentless – particularly if you’re working from home or struggling through another bastard lockdown.
Given these trying conditions, a new study offers some welcome news. As part of her PhD at Edith Cowan University’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, Mandy Richardson conducted a data-driven study that found that parents who let their kids fumble through a problem, rather than taking the “helicopter” approach, reported significantly lower stress levels and greater confidence in their children than parents in the control group.
Parents in the study were invited to take part in a class for infants or toddlers over six weeks where they simply observed their children in uninterrupted play in a safe space without interfering. The kids were free to play as they liked while parents sat in the room and watched with a facilitator. After this observation period, the parents took part in a discussion.
“In the feedback, the parents reported that being able to just observe their children alleviated a lot of pressure from them instead of having to always be in charge and fix or manage every situation,” says Mandy, a former teacher and mother of three.
“But they also started to see their children as being a lot more capable and competent. They began to understand that maybe they didn’t have to always be constantly ‘on’ as parents quite so much.”
Mandy describes this as the “Respectful Approach”, a style of parenting that encourages parents to treat young children as capable and independent humans who can flourish if given safe space and freedom from too much adult direction.
The advantage of this more hands-off approach for the kids’, she explains, is that it gives them an opportunity to problem-solve and test their initiative. This can help children to build confidence and learn how to deal with conflict in emotionally intelligent ways.
Yet for parents this less intrusive style was also beneficial as they learned that there wasn’t so much urgency to intervene at the child’s first sign of frustration or struggle.
“Often when you’re trying to get something done and you’ve got a little person at your feet, I think a lot of the messages we hear are that your children are only young once, so whatever you’re doing can wait’.” Mandy says
“But the reality of life is that certain things still do need to get done and children are actually okay to just be empathized with like, “Honey, I’m going to actually ask you to wait. Mummy’s going to pick you up soon when she’s finished this.”
“That’s the sort of perception shift that a lot of the parents reported back on in the focus group question time.”
The study was admittedly small — with just 15 parents in the experimental group — with more research to follow. Nevertheless, the initial results – less parental stress and greater confidence in your children – are highly positivie findings. It’s early days, but returning to the helipad could prove a win-win for both parents and kids.