Going Nuts and Being a Helicopter Parent

Is it just me, or is this parent going completely overboard?

Not to far from my home in Toronto, a woman is trying to convince the local school board to remove all of the oak trees near her childrens’ school. You can read the story from our local paper here It’s bordering on nutty, in my opinion, and I’m not afraid to say so.

Here’s the deal: The woman has two teenage children who suffer from anaphylactic reactions to certain foods due to allergies. She’s worried that the acorns, the hard nuts that fall from oak trees at this time of year, pose a threat to her kids and others who suffer from severe allergies.

So she’s gone ahead and asked the school board to remove the trees.

Seriously?  Medical experts are saying that you’d literally have to eat these acorns to cause any kind of allergic reaction.  And people don’t eat these things.  Squirrels eat them.  People with severe allergies could handle the acorns and not suffer any reaction.

What can parents learn from this kind of behavior:

1. It’s easy to get emotional about a situation and over-react.  Who knows what caused this woman to suddenly want to take action against the oak tree “danger”.  It’s easy to us to say that this woman is being irrational, because she is an adult.  But remember that when our kids are irrational, we often try to use logic to persuade them to take a different view.  Logic rarely works.  Parents should focus on dealing with the emotional states, which drive the behavior.

2. Helicopter parenting is the phrase used to describe parents who watch over their kids WAY too closely.  Avoid becoming one of these hovering parents.  Unless there is real danger, let your kids make their own decisions, let them explore the world (or playground, or toy box, or whatever) and stop micro managing.  It doesn’t help.  My guess is that this woman, petitioning to kill the oak trees, has not even bothered to ask her kids if the acorns worry them.

So she’s likely making a problem where there is none to begin with.  If the so-called “problem” affects the kids, then ask them about it.  See what they think.  This should remind all parents that your kids are pretty smart.  When you have an issue and don’t know how to handle it, and it involves them … ask them!  Ask your kids what they think?  You’ll be surprised sometimes at what you learn.

Enjoy your children (and leave the oak trees alone),

Chris Thompson

SEE ALSO: This audio lesson will forever change the way you interact with your kids

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28 Responses to Going Nuts and Being a Helicopter Parent

  1. Rory November 14, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    Chris –

    Thank you for sharing this article. I hadn’t heard about this yet. As a parent, and as a fellow parenting expert, it’s amazing to what lengths parents will go to fight for their children.

    In one sense, great advocacy is so important to help children. But yes, as you mention, the emotional component can sometimes get a little out of hand.

    And helicopter parenting…wow…ya, it can be quite daunting and get in the way. We need to allow our children room to experience the world for themselves (to a degree, and depending upon age) so that they can ultimately grow up learning to make decisions for themselves.

    Great post!


  2. Sylvia November 14, 2012 at 12:23 am #

    I am totally over it with people who want everyone else to solve the problems or ‘perceived’ problems. These kids are teenagers not babies crawling around the ground, if they’re silly enough to eat acorns, which in itself would be no mean task, then they can cop the consequences, somehow I think they are a lot brighter than their mother who seems in search of notoriety and publicity. Next thing you know she’ll have some smart money-hungry lawyer offering to help her sue someone.
    My personal view is that if kids were allowed to eat more mud pies and the disinfectant wipes were thrown in the bin so kids had more exposure to the ‘germs’ that lurk in our homes there would be far fewer people suffering from the allergies which abound in society today and don’t even get me started on food additives and kid’s behaviour.
    Granny Smith

    • Emily November 24, 2012 at 2:54 am #

      I am with you 100% Sylvia :) the world is waaaaay too sanitised these days… bring back the mud!!!

  3. Adrian November 14, 2012 at 12:27 am #

    Chris, I’m with you on this.
    Knives are deadly, yet I teach my 5 year old how to handle and use them safely.

    If the woman’s kids were deathly allergic to touching the nuts or the trees, I’d be sympathetic and I’d understand. (maybe that’s my logical engineering side talking)
    I too think many parents “helicopter parent” their kids, and likely shield them from valuable life experiences.

    I constantly have to remind myself not to “help”.
    Kids learn best from experiences.

  4. Mark Carrington November 14, 2012 at 12:33 am #

    You make many good points. The days when we taught our children how to look after themselves seem to be well gone – gone are the days when a child could take peanut butter sandwiches to school because all the kids with allergies to peanuts knew not to eat said peanut butter sandwiches. I only came across the term Helicopter Parenting a few short weeks ago. It prompted me to write an article suggesting that parents facing the start of the terrible twos need to take a strategic view as to the type of parents they want to be. The article has been published at http://ezinearticles.com/?Helicopter-Parenting-and-the-Terrible-Twos&id=7302733

  5. Clarke Dale November 14, 2012 at 12:37 am #

    To quote the Simpson, “think about the children!” More specifically, how their peers, teachers, other parents and society as a whole will likely treat the kids, whether directly or otherwise, as being just as “nutty” as their mother. The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree, keeping in range of societal recentment.

    I realize that she’s doing whatever she can to protect her children, but in my opinion, this is taking it too far. It starts with the oak trees at the school yard, but will soon become all the trees between their home and the school, then the local community centers, library, soccer fields, the city, then an all out banning of nutty trees everywhere.

    If she’s not comfortable sending her kids to the nutty school, than they can always go to a different school. Move if she has to. Heck, home schooling is an option too.

  6. Kelly Burch November 14, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    I nodded wholeheartedly at: “Parents should focus on dealing with the emotional states, which drive the behavior.” However I think my version is different. Parents should focus on dealing with THEIR OWN emotional states, which drive their behaviour.

    • Chris Thompson November 14, 2012 at 12:50 am #

      Kelly – you’re absolutely right! In my haste to post this, I didn’t mention that. Funny enough I was making notes on this exact topic today for an upcoming program I’m releasing shortly. Emotional states drive behavior, and parents need to focus on their own, plus have the tools to help their kids learn how to control theirs.

  7. Tim November 14, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    Seriously this what is wrong with the world today. Parents need to step back and let their kids have a mind of their own and possibly get into dangerous situations. You cannot be there for your kids your whole life so how are they ever going to learn how to take care of themselves if everythning is always done for them. Plus this helicopter parenting takes away the kids simple ability to problem solve day to day issues. What are these kids going to be like when they go into the workforce.

    I totally agree with you Chris. You can’t child proof the world. What are they going to cut down every oak tree the come across. I guess we should all where helmets when we walk around.

  8. Dave November 14, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    I realise that this is a “parenting” site and do agree with most of the above but I think that by focusing solely on the helicopter parenting issue there is a larger issue being overlooked.

    What about the rights of other children to climb those trees …. etc?. It would seem that apart from minerals, lots of space (and a few other things) Canada is very similar to Australia in that both places are trending towards “nanny-states”.

    Perth. Western Australia

  9. Tanya November 14, 2012 at 3:00 am #

    Hummmm… maybe I’m a bit of a helicopter parent. I have 3 kids, the oldest being 3 and 8 months. After having a stillborn, and a few miscarriages, you tend to be ‘over’ protective. If I can prevent my kids from getting hurt, then I will. They do get scrapes, bumps and bruises in the back yard and playgrounds at times… they can (and always do) take on the biggest toughest playgrounds they can get to!
    I think it’s important to teach your kids how to take on the world… as safely as they can! If you really must jump off that cliff, then make sure you use a parachute (and wait until you’re at least 25 years old)!
    So l think this is a mum that’s trying to look out for her kids… all of the above comments are very valid, and the mum may be a bit miss informed about the allergen triggers, but she is trying to do the best for her kids (as extreme as it may be). I can kind of understand her concerns… she may have been struggling with these allergies for a very long time and lost her way. Don’t condemn her for loving and protecting her kids, listen to her, understand where she is coming from, and help to guide her in the right direction… but don’t cut the trees down!

  10. Kirrily November 14, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    “You can’t child-proof the world; better to world-proof your child.”

    I can’t remember where I first heard this phrase, but I agree with it whole heartedly! Don’t shield your children from the world; teach them to understand & interact with the world safely. Little bit, by little bit in an age-appriopriate way, we have to give them opportunities to be independant & responsible.

    To me this means exactly what Chris said, i.e. have regular age-appropriate talks to your own children about problems, concerns or hazards (perceived or real!) and allow them to have some ownership and responsiblity for the solutions/ plan of action/ precautions which you may discuss & decide on together.

    It goes with out saying that we can’t (and I believe shouldn’t) always “be there” for our kids. It is a big world which eventually they have to navigate solo at times, so it is of great importance that they learn to advocate and look after their own health & wellbeing- be it physical or emotional.

  11. alison November 14, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    She obviously loves her kids and wants to protect them but it is too far, not that she can see that. The thing is is that you can not remove all the dangers of the world and while she may remove the oaks around the school, what about the one in their friend’s yard or by the local park etc. What’s important, I think, is to teach your kids about potential, of anything not just dangers the good stuff too, and teach them how to deal with it.
    Who knows what took her this far to worry this much, it would make life for her and her children very difficult – I feel for her. But I would not cut down the trees; for that matter I don’t whole heartedly believe in taking foods out of schools either. Just my thoughts.

  12. Ellen Mossman-Glazer November 14, 2012 at 5:34 am #

    Chris, I agree with you– unrealistic expectations and a mom who is barking up the “wrong tree”… if we banned every allergen, we’d have barren cupboards, no vegetation and no fun. I’d like to speak from both sides since my now grown two boys and I have had anaphylactic reactions, the ER room and a brush or two with our mortality. We have scary stories…. avoidable once we knew what we were dealing with. I’ve seen parents frustrated when some of the seriousness and fine-tuning efforts of allergies are misunderstood by the people we entrust our children to through our days. I hope this mom comes to see,that there is a lot she can learn to feel a sense of control over her fears, as well as give her child the feeling of being empowered to advocate for himself. Lessons learned through allergy mis-steps risk greater consequences than the classic testing of the hot burner. Helicoptering may be a temporary part of helping kids act on the information they need to hear. Allergic kids need to know how to avoid allergy trouble, and the steps to take if allergy trouble finds them. The process is not different than other independence building skills parents teach their kids–we hold our toddler’s hand crossing the street teaching the “look both ways” lessons, which gradually earn more freedom as they demonstrate they can do so responsibly. But accidents happen and the news scares parents and kids. I cannot imagine what I’d feel if I was a parent of the boy who died on an overnight camping trip from peanut butter residue on a knife. I remember when the first school in Toronto banned peanut butter sandwiches from their lunchroom. My sons’ allergies are fish and seafood. It did not occur to me to ask the school to ban tuna fish sandwiches. I still have my deep breath moments as my wonderfully grown boys—men– do their creative allergy workarounds in sushi restaurants and foreign places, but I believe a parent’s job is giving their kids wings during the growing years. If you try to back up and hover once your kids are living their lives out in the world on their own, prepare to eject.

  13. corinne simonyi November 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    So will this woman not let her teenagers visit a park, or take a nature hike, or go camping for fear of running into an oak tree? I mean, come on–they’re teenagers! I read this story in the Star, and had to reread it to figure out what the woman thought the danger was. Even the doctor quoted in the article seems perplexed. I completely agree that the mom is being irrational. And that the issue here is not the “non”-problem of acorns, but the real problem of parents who feel the need to micro-manage every aspect of their kids’ lives.

    I read somewhere that when something is forced on you as a kid (a viewpoint, for example) you grow up either passionately adopting or passionately rejecting it. This woman may have an epic teenage rebellion on her hands if she doesn’t lay off.

  14. Beatriz Montoya November 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Interesting article, Chris! What struck me the most was the parent’s attitute to want the world around her kids to change, so that it suits their needs. I am a teacher and I often have to deal with parents that want me to change my method books to suit their kids learning style, or to stop construction in school because it’s distracting their kids, or to change the snacks I offer because they don’t like them, etc etc etc! As a parent of two, when it was my turn to put my kids in daycare, I almost acted just like this, because I too wanted everybody to cater to my own kids’ needs. Then my husband reminded me….”Baby, you’re doing what those moms at your school are doing…remember how ANNOYING they are!!!!” Nothing else needed to say…

  15. Chandrakant Naik November 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    It’s over care of a mom towards kids ,but it might have ripened due to total inability to cope the situation.If remedial measure practicable can help her.

  16. Lizzie November 14, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Agreed- the whole allergy thing has gone, er nuts. I suppose the stakes are high, if your child is at risk of death. But in fact there is risk of death everywhere- crossing roads, falling over train platforms, being in a road accident, drowning at the beach, choking on Lego. And there is always an Epi-Pen after all….

    I blame the medical people- now they tell us in Australia we should start babies on solid food at 4 months but previously really strictly advised to 6 months. They now think that this is why we have such high rates of severe allergies. Lucky we ignored all this and ate everything during pregnancy, let the kids eat food at 4 months as they were trying to grab things off my plate!. The kids have no allergies, thank god. I am interested my friend’s children have severe allergies to nuts- he is a doctor. I wonder if the children of health professionals have higher incidence of allergies- that would be an interesting research project…

  17. Sunita November 14, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    I have never posted a comment before but feel compelled to do so now. This ladies suggestion of cutting down nut trees is clearly crazy. But as a mum with a toddler who has a severe allergy to nuts, I can sympathise with this woman. Is she a bit weird and potentially harming her children as a result of her behaviour? Yes/maybe but when nuts are everywhere, adults around your children are constantly forget their allergies, when allergies can be unpredictable and change with every exposure, can you blame her for going slightly potty?
    As for the comment about getting kids to eat a bit more dirt to avoid allergies, this won’t work (certainly not for my toddler and probably many other kids with allergies). Fact. Also the implication that these allergies are the fault of parents is a bit harsh.
    Can I suggest that before you judge a mothers parenting, try putting yourself in their shoes and don’t judge them too harshly.

  18. Sue November 15, 2012 at 2:09 am #

    This attitude that seems to be of these later generations, that other people need to do things so I am OK is absurde! People who are allergic to certain things find that out and stay away from it. It is sad that now no children can have any kind of nut better sandwich just because there are children who are allergic to certain nuts. I might understand this in first grade but all through the school!? Peaple with allergies need to deal with that and not force the rest of the world to cut down our trees or not be able to bring in our lunch what we would like! It takes hundreds of years to grow some of those old great trees and I think it a crime to cut them down if it is at all possible to save them.

  19. Jeni Roberts November 15, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    We need to return to responsibility for our own actions. I actually feel that a school going completely nut-free is too far. I had severe food allergies as a kid. No one had to change their course of action except me. My parents taught me how to be safe and I was. As an adult, I still suffer from allergies to all grasses and all trees. Should my town switch everything to sand zen gardens just because my lungs close and I can’t breathe? No, I take meds, gobs of them, and I take the precautions I need. My nephew has severe nut allergies (and eggs & shellfish). Where does it end? Should his school ban all cupcakes and tuna sandwiches as well? No, his school is sane. They have an allergen-free zone in the cafeteria and the kids can choose to sit there, or not. He reports no stigma attached to the area and seems quite well-adjusted.

  20. Nicky Jones November 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    Just a short one.
    Thank you for this Chris, it is amazing to think that a person would go to such lengths. The question I always ask myself is , What would I have done about the issue? ” I’m pretty sure not the solution she has”

    I fully agree to deal with the parent’s emotional state is Vital because; like the idea of cutting down the oaks trees will in the long run cause other problems/consequences. Our emotional reaction towards our children will do the same as they grow up.

    My 2 yr old boy, woke me up at 2:30 am, I was tired. He had decided that he was done with sleep. After a long period of commanding him to get back to bed, I screamed out to him that I would get a hiding. To which he responded ” dad I nappy is full, change nappy.” And he laid still for me to change his nappy. Story is our children are more smarter than we give them credit. She must ask her children for help. lol

  21. darlene November 16, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    oh boy……i realized after reading this…..i’m a helicopter mom! noooooo

  22. Louise November 16, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    Hi Chris,

    My 3.5 yr old son started pre-school (in Australia) recently where it’s a nut-free environment – is this the case with pre-schools/schools in Canada/the rest of the world too? If there is only one child or even a few in an entire school with a severe nut allergy, I don’t think it’s fair to ask the majority of parents to have to go to the trouble of making sure their kids don’t bring any nuts or foods containing nuts to school. In my opinion this is going overboard. How can you possibly expect to regulate that?

    The parents of nut allergic children should be taking 100% responsibility to teach their child about what they can and can’t eat and to always wash their hands before eating. These parents should be the ones going to lengths to make sure their child can survive in the real world, rather than expect others to carry that burden by creating a nut-free environment especially for their child.

    I will be putting my case forward to my school Principal. I would greatly appreciate your help in wording a letter that all parents of non-allergic children can put forward to their school Principals regarding this issue?

    Thanks for your great blog Chris :)

  23. Conflict Resolution November 17, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    I respect all of the opinions here. I appreciate a lot from Mark Carrington. I’ll read your article that I DESPERETLY need it! However, I ask that this lady is respected for whatever reasons she has to feel the way she feels. I mean, big respect to her. I don’t desagree that prior to asking the trees to be removed, a study about them should be done and therefore act in balance to all who either benefit or may be having trouble with the trees. Then act to a higher degree depending on the results. In any case, I appreciate you Chris a lot for your work and words, however I do ask also that we respect her feelings as we don’t know the whole story nor feelings behind it. We cannot and SHould not use a critisism to make a point. I would rather suggest, we write it in a tone that respects her views/ no matter what they are. Conflict Resolution.

  24. Jenny November 17, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

    Ok. Oak trees … Seems a little too far.

    But, obviously none of you have s child who has a life threatening allergy.

    My two year old had s smear of organic almond brazil and cashew paste.
    He turned red and swollen before my eyes. His skin broke out in an angry
    Red rash within minutes. He didn’t even swallow the paste.
    We now carry an epi pen everywhere. We are very lucky. No further incidents and thanks to a thorough Gp know that he is only highly allergic to Brazil nuts.

    I have met children that can’t even drink from a water fountain after another child that’s eaten nuts.

    There are people who are so highly allergic that s bag of nuts opened on a plane 20 rows in front can cause a reaction.

    I think oak trees seems too far and ridiculous. But have a little compassion for those of us that live with this.

  25. Louise November 20, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Hi again :) Well I didn’t end up writing the letter because I’ve found its a public liability issue. World’s gone mad!

  26. Anouk November 23, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Once the trees are gone will there be complaints about lack of oxygen?
    It will be a lot easier to solve our own emotional problems then to try and eliminate all the problems we think endanger our children.

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