When I was working in Colgate, I used to be present at a number of the events and exhibitions that were held over the weekends. One of the popular activities that the marketing team liked to organise for the children is a colouring contest. We used to be amazed by how involved some parents would get in this competition. They would sit next to their child and peer over the child’s shoulder, pointing out areas that needed improvement and giving directions on the colouring in process. I remember thinking back then that I would not be like that.
It seems this phenomenon is not limited to colouring competitions. It goes on…
- the 52 year old mother who dressed up as her daughter to take the exam for her
- the parents who do their son’s homework for him
- calling potential employers about the status of their child’s job application, or ask why their child wasn’t hired
There is a term for this style of parenting. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s called helicopter parenting (or overparenting ). By all definitions of helicopter parent, it appears I have turned into the parent I said I would never be. Oh dear… How did that happen? Tim Elmore offers a terrific parenting analogy of teaching your child how to ride a bike. Just like being a parent to a new born baby, you begin by doing everything for your child. As your child grows older, you need to reduce that support and start letting go. The problem is, most of us forget to let go.
So when Aristotle received his first bit of homework from school a couple of months back, it was an opportunity for me to mend my excessive parenting ways. I took a big step back and tried to minimise my involvement in the project as much as possible. It was a tough balance trying to be accessible if he needed help without encroaching on his space. I wanted him to do the thinking and make all the decisions so, given my propensity for wanting to take over, I figured the less I saw, the less I would be tempted to butt in.
For the project, Aristotle was supposed choose an insect to present. The children were given an outline sheet to take home which helped them to break up the project into simple steps to complete on a weekly basis. For instance, pick an insect and decide how you will present it – e.g. poster, puppets, presentation, etc. research the insect and collect information that you want to share, create your presentation, etc. Aristotle decided he wanted to do his on the butterfly. Really? Of all the weird and wonderful creatures he could have chosen from the insect world he picked the uninspiring butterfly? I bit my lip and swallowed the words. This was Aristotle’s school project, not mine. Instead I asked him how he wanted to present it so that I could help him get the materials he needed to work on it.
One afternoon he told me he wanted to work on his butterfly so I took out my box of art stuff and left him to his own devices. He used a cereal box to create that rather weird-shaped butterfly you see in the picture below. I confess that I had to slap my hands several times to stop myself from trying to improve it.
When I asked him how he was going to present to the class information about the butterfly, he realised he needed something more and decided to throw in the poster. I asked him how he wanted to research the information – did he want to go to the library? No, he replied. He would just look it up on the computer. Heh… gone are the days when you go to the library to borrow books for information but I digress… While he was searching for information on the butterfly using Google, I peeked over his shoulder just to make sure that “butterfly” wasn’t some new funky term for questionable adult activities that little boys shouldn’t see. Once I was satisfied that all the sites were legit and no adult-only sites had escaped my parent control settings, I left him to jot down bits of information that he wanted to include on his poster.
In the end, the only areas I actually assisted with was the printing and the searching for butterfly photos. He told me what pictures he wanted and he made the selections himself. He cut them out and he stuck the bits of paper onto the poster by himself. This was the final result: