3 Tips to Avoid Being a Helicopter College Parent

Helping Your Student Combat Anxiety

By: Betty Lochner

Do you find yourself checking in on your student’s social media accounts? Do you call their professors to see if they are doing okay? Are you making them do an extra credit assignment or two? Did you call employers to see how they did in an interview? If so, congratulations! You’re a helicopter parent. 

Being an involved parent can be a good thing for your college student if done in moderation, i.e. not to the degree of the above actions. It may even help prepare them for life after school. However, there are also some drawbacks that come with being overly involved in their post-secondary education. 

Finding a balance between being helpful and over-involved as a college parent can get complicated.

We recommend these conversation ideas for communicating with your adult children:

Keep a positive undertone as much as possible.

Not all situations will be positive, but a positive undertone when you speak to them is almost always possible. For instance, if they flunk their first college test, it’s not a positive situation. However, you can express your belief in them and discuss solutions that may help them do better next time.

Your student will explore, learn, and make mistakes. Being available to support and talk with them in a positive manner will earn you trust that will be very important if something serious is happening, especially with their mental health.

Use open versus interrogation language

We all have some sort of trigger word, especially at times when we feel vulnerable. Watch your language to show openness to listening rather than openness to prosecution. 

Stay away from yes/no questions such as Do you like….? It is…? Are you….? Instead, start questions with what or how?

A few sample questions: 

  • What’s going well?
  • How is the weather?
  • What’s your favorite class?
  • What’s your roommate like?
  • What’s the food like?
  • What activities are you getting involved in outside of class?
  • Anything special we can send you?

The college experience is a big transition and remember your adult child is still a child. Your child will make mistakes, no matter how well you have prepared.

Stay positive on family trips and holidays

As you learn to let go a bit, have time together in the future planned. This could include booking holiday tickets home in advance, or planning a get-together with extended family and friends they may be missing.  

But before you make big plans, ask them first. 

When they’re home be careful to make assumptions about how they want to spend their time (or how YOU want them to spend their time). Give them space and ask what they want to do. Your student may just need time to rest, sleep in, and do nothing after a busy, emotional semester.  Ask: What do you want to make sure we do while you are home? Then ask, What do you want to make sure we don’t do?  If they aren’t sure, let it go. Let them just be and try not to get frustrated if that’s nothing or binge watching a show. Once you’ve opened the door, they’ll let you know when they decide.

Plan a family vacation during the summer break with their input, so that your student has some time away from academics and college prep. It can be a simple trip to somewhere they love to go for a weekend, or a full-blown trip to a vacation spot. 

Bottom line: 

Be there when you are needed, ask good questions, and stay positive. 

It can be hard to balance being helpful and over-involved as a college parent. It’s important to remember that students need their independence, but it’s also okay to offer help when they ask for it. 

Once you start paying attention to where you land on the helicopter scale, you may find you can give your student wings while still knowing they have you to guide them.