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To the Helicopter Parent: Keep Flying

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There are many negative connotations associated with the term “helicopter parent.” By definition a helicopter parent is “a parent who take an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.” As a parent to two children with special needs, I don’t see being overprotective as a bad thing. Having an excessive interest in their life seems perfectly fine and helpful in many ways.

Parents of children with special needs follow their own sets of rules. Instead of focusing on the helicopter parent as someone with unnecessary fears who gives their child instant gratification and solves every problem for their child, let’s look at the characteristics of an actual helicopter pilot and see how these top qualities are an asset in parents of children with and without special needs.

According to a recent article, the top six qualities of a great helicopter pilot include:

1. Has Strong Communication Skills

While a helicopter pilot needs to effectively communicate with copilots, passengers, and air traffic control, a special needs parent needs excellent communication skills with doctors, school system staff, insurance companies, therapists, and even complete strangers. Special needs parents also require strong communication skills for connecting with their child.

2. Is Able to Handle Pressure

Both a pilot and special needs parent must handle the pressure of difficult decisions, stay calm during a time of crisis, and be able to survive stressful situations. Pressure for a special needs parent can come from dealing with finances, lack of services, sleep deprivation, and the desire to provide what is best for your child. Pressure can also come from managing relationships with a spouse/partner, family, and coworkers.

3. Uses Good Judgment

Confident in their decisiveness, both the special needs parent and pilot must have good decision-making skills to analyze a situation and proceed in the direction that is best for everyone involved. Special needs parents often have to make decisions about how much freedom to give their child, when to step in, and when to step aside. When a special needs child becomes an adult, decision-making and good judgment skills may be needed more than ever.

4. Exercises Patience

Patience is key for both the pilot and parent. Both work through last-minute routine changes, unexpected events, and trying situations. A special needs parent’s patience is necessary when working with teachers, special services, and therapists. Patience is especially needed for test results and when dealing with doctors. Progress does not happen overnight, so patience is a virtue.

5. Believes in Teamwork

While the pilot must rely on his crew members, air traffic controllers, and copilots, the special needs parent must also rely on a crew of family members, therapists, doctors, teachers, and support systems. Teamwork is essential to achieve the best results for the child. When the school, special services support team, and family work together, everyone benefits. When therapists, doctors, and the family can all be on the same page, great things can happen.

6. Has a Good Temperament

A great pilot and a special needs parent both have an even temperament and are able to manage stress well. A special needs parent often works in high-stress situations on a daily basis. Having flexibility and adaptability when dealing with frustrating situations is an amazing characteristic of special needs parents.

So while many may ridicule the helicopter parent, I say be proud and fly high!

Originally published: August 31, 2016
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