The Golden Rule and Helicopter Parents at the Dinner Table

Sep 2, 2009 by

1097863_stock helicopter

I’ve just started hearing about “helicopter parents.”  A new term, maybe, but certainly not a new phenomenon. The tendency of modern parents to hover is especially manifested at feeding time.

Driven by fear, overbearing, over involved, fussy, these anxious parents worry out loud and take on responsibilities that don’t belong to them in attempting to make things perfect in their children’s lives, from eating to education.

“Feeding is a metaphor for the parent-child relationship overall,” writes Ellyn Satter, author of How to Get Your Kid to Eat… But Not Too Much.  “Parents will probably treat a child in other areas the way they learn to treat her in feeding.”

So how would you feel if someone were hovering over you and trying to control you when it was time to eat?

Probably a bit like I did when my husband used to insist that I get in whenever we were at a swimming pool.  He was sure I would enjoy it, but I didn’t want to go in, and it became a matter of honor to keep my choice not to go in.  I had to grow up a little to finally go swimming.

1008997_stock asparaus In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, author Barbara Kingsolver’s daughter Camille writes in one of her several essays included in the book: “I decided that even if I grew up to love asparagus, I would always tell my Mom I hated it. I didn’t want her to be right about my personal preferences.”

Some years later that resolve was broken down by the relaxed attitude of her parents—“OK, good,” her mom told her.” More for us then!” – and the winsome flavors of the fresh, seasonal vegetables they were so evidently enjoying without her.

“The themes of growth and responsibility and love and limits play themselves out with eating, the same as with every other aspect” of your child’s life, Ellyn Satter writes.  It’s so often a question of knowing when to  back off and when to hold firm, but always with calm and confidence.

Just like the rest of us humans, kids tend to resist being micromanaged. If you make an issue out of something and get pushy, whether it’s eating, doing homework or chores, they are most likely going to dig in their heels, especially if you get excited about it. Backing off sometimes gives them a chance to notice they’re actually interested after all.

“Keep your mouth shut and fingers crossed and the look of incredulity off your face,” Satter advises. “They will show you what healthy and normal eating is all about.”

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 2 September 2009 / All rights reserved


The truth comes out about the swimming pool. Hmm...that's me, not the helicopter, rather the paratrooper: eat your meal or else...So there is a little lesson in understanding (women's?) psychology for dads and husbands out there, myself included.

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Thanks for your comment! I agree: not caring whether or how much or what exactly they eat is key. Behind the scenes, we need to care a lot about how and what we offer food to our kids, and then let them take over their part. Our job is to give them only the right foods and let the chips fall where they may from there. As you say, three meals a day, a specific plan for good snacks (as opposed to willy nilly eating or providing junk food). When they get used to a structure, their hunger kicks in and it all just works. I think we can have a lot of confidence in feeding our kids well when we remember they get hungry. That gives us a lot of power. Clearly, I’m preaching to the choir with you, but I wrote an earlier post along those lines, “Hunger: To Fear or Not to Fear,” if you’re interested: :


This was always my policy, when it came to children and food. We ate three meals a day. Carrots and apples were available for snacks with water to drink. If the child didn't want to eat something, that was fine with me. They could eat at the next meal. If they didn't eat the meal, they could not have snacks. That was it. My children eat anything I give. They eat all veggies. They are very adventurous eaters. I just don't care if they eat or not, so it never was an issue.