Do you have helicopter parents in your club?

The helicopter parent can create challenges for a club, but honest communication can ease the stress and lead to success for everyone.

Volunteers often wonder how to deal with helicopter parents or adults who are so close to the children that they rarely have the opportunity to experience anything on their own or make friends without help or interference. Working with this type of parent or adult can be frustrating. Michigan State University Extension has a few tips that can help you set the stage for success.

Be honest but kind and thoughtful. Consider first and foremost that you both have something in common, the children. You both want them to be successful, but have different strategies for how you will get them there. The first step is typically to communicate with all of the adults or parents in your group when the children are engaged in another activity under the supervision of someone else. This is a great time to allow all of the adults to get acquainted and discuss what I refer to as the basics of involvement: goals, expectations and concerns.

As the volunteer in charge of the group, you have ability to plan this meeting and ask all of the adults to attend this important meeting to set the stage for success. It gets everyone on the same page and allows them to ask questions and get clarity on what the group will be doing moving forward. Take time to prepare your thoughts in advance of the meeting so you are well prepared and can share your vision for the group. If you have co-leaders, you will want to be sure you have done this planning together. You might even ask the parents and adults who will be attending to think about what they are hoping will be achieved in the next year, and that you are planning to discuss the club year and planning activities.

Goals should be SMART, meaning they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and have a Timetable. What goals do you have for the club as a whole? What goals will members be setting for themselves? What goals will be completed by individuals and which ones will be completed by the group as a whole? These goals may include completing community service activities, trying new projects, involving new members or having members do all the planning for their club trip.

Expectations should be realistic and written down so they are known to all. People rise to expectations. Sometimes people do things because they don’t know what else to do, expectations tell us what to do. Members may be expected to attend meetings, parents may be asked to bring refreshments or everyone might help clean up, but if you are new to the group, you don’t know who does what and when to help or stand back out of the way. Have you ever wondered if you need to bring table service to the potluck or if the club provides it? It’s these little things that can make a big difference and cause frustration that adds up over time, so be clear. Let parents know that when the project leader is providing instruction to the youth, you expect parents will refrain from coaching from the sideline. Those expectations may be in the form of boundaries.

Concerns happen and that’s OK. What specific concerns are you having with parents and adults in the club? Are they jumping in to help because they are concerned about their child’s safety during an activity? Are you noticing competition has become more important than the young people? Are projects being completed with too much help from the adults? If these are the issues you experienced last year, talk about them briefly and offer solutions for curbing these behaviors. One such solution may be parents help children that are not their own at meetings. If you have teens in your club, you could pair teen members with younger members so that adults are stepping back during project meetings and the youth are learning from each other while supervised by the project leaders.

During this meeting, be sure to ask the adults and parents what goals, expectations and concerns they have related to the club. You will most likely find you have many things in common and even discover some items to consider that will make the experience better for everyone. Don’t miss the opportunity to get to know each other as adults and help newer families get connected with others in the club. You may discover these adults have skills they can share with the club members.

During meetings, adults and parents can be helpful in preparing items for future activities, setting up snacks, cleaning up a space while youth move on to something else or doing research for a project. Adults may even enjoy some downtime while their young people are fully engaged, and that is perfectly OK.

We are in this together as volunteers, parents and adults who want to see our children succeed. Be honest with those helicopter parents and adults when they hover and control activities; help them understand that stepping back can be valuable in a kind and sensitive way. Lead by example and remember to offer options. No one type of parental participation or adult interaction is right for everyone, but let us remember that children need to experience life in order to succeed at it. If you are looking for a place to volunteer, consider MSU Extension and one of its programs.

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