Hovering parents are taking a beating in the media these days. In an avalanche of recent articles, they are shamed, scolded and mocked for hyper-involvement in their children’s lives. Experts are coming out of the woodwork with smug superiority, issuing dire warnings about the anxious, insecure children hovering parents are raising. We’re getting an earful about the problems, but zilch in the way of solutions.
The truth is, within every parent is a fearful hoverer. Some of us are just better at keeping it in check. And all the media humiliation in the world is not going to arrest the desire we all have to give our children every advantage in life and to protect them from struggle, frustration and failure.
Intellectually, we know our children must eventually learn to cope with life’s obstacles and disappointments. But we cannot simply withdraw our overabundance of loving concern; we need inspiration to re-channel it. We need to get excited about giving our children the advantage they really need, the gift on the other side of the hovering coin: the joy of “I did it!”
“I did it, all by myself” is the glorious feeling of accomplishment children crave from the moment they are born. Even babies want to be doers, and they can be. They can feel this success when they finally roll from their backs to their tummies after several days of twisting and straining, or when they are allowed to squirm across the floor to reach a toy rather than having it handed to them. They feel it when, after a struggle, they manage to get their own socks off, or when they finally stand after falling again and again.
Every time a child has an opportunity to own “I did it,” self-confidence grows. And a child’s capabilities build upon each other. The more he is trusted to accomplish for himself, the more emboldened he is to take on another challenge.
When parents learn to treasure a child’s independent accomplishments, they can become passionate about backing off rather than hovering. They understand that a child’s unsolved problems and unfinished projects, frustrations and perceived failures are important to the learning process. Children are born ready and willing to persevere and don’t see struggles as negative unless parents teach them otherwise.
But when we push, teach, show, fix or even help a little too much, we interfere with a child’s chance to achieve. The second it takes us to solve a child’s problem or arrest his struggle can destroy another “I did it” possibility. Our challenge is to find the patience to wait and see if the child can do it himself first. If the child becomes too frustrated, we do the smallest thing possible to help. Sometimes that means talking him through a solution, or moving a stuck object slightly so that a baby can then free it, or guiding an older child to brainstorm for essay ideas rather than giving him one. Often children just need us to be open to their capabilities and give them a little more time.
Matthew is a quiet, reserved, two year old who has been in my parent/toddler class for over a year. He stays close to his dad most of the time, playing quietly and observing. Last week the children were at the snack table, each choosing a bib for me to fasten around their neck. When Matthew chose, he tentatively pulled it around to the back of his neck himself. I stopped myself from helping him. “Are you trying to put that on?” I asked. A moment later he succeeded, and I acknowledged with a smile. ”You did it by yourself.” “Mommy, Matthew put the bib on by himself!” exclaimed Emerson, an exuberant boy with amazing language skills. Matthew and I locked eyes, and I will never forget the radiance I saw in him.
These brief moments of accomplishment are a child’s foundation for self-confidence, a love of learning, tenacity, imagination, independence, and a strong mind. All bode well for successes in life – and are everything the hovering parent in each of us could hope for.
“When you teach a child something, you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.” –Jean Piaget
Read more about this empowering approach in