Are you a helicopter mom doing too much for your children? Learn how to stop hovering over your child and focus on these benefits instead.
Do you ever feel like you can’t take your eyes off your child?
Maybe it’s because she’s causing mischief, or you worry she’ll hurt herself without you nearby. You might even assume good parenting means being hands-on.
And so you micromanage everything. You resolve social conflict, inspect her chores (even redoing them if she didn’t do it well), direct her play and take over her crafts.
It’s easy to think you have no other alternatives.
Trust me, I know. I was the mom who stood inches away from her toddler, afraid he’d fall as he climbed on the playground. I assumed I wasn’t doing my job if I didn’t play with him 24/7, and I’d step in the minute he got in a tussle with another child.
All in the name of good parenting, no less.
So, why the change of heart? I learned that hovering over kids, despite its good intentions, isn’t good for anyone.
How to stop hovering over your child
Doing everything for our kids doesn’t give them what psychologists call a “sense of self.” This is the belief and understanding kids learn of who they are, like their interests, ambitions, or faith in their capabilities.
But hovering over your child sends a clear and different message: You can’t do anything on your own.
We do too much, whether it’s chores, directing play time or managing every minute of their day. Kids don’t have a chance to find who they are or what they’re capable of.
They can’t face or cope with the inevitable difficulties life will throw at them. After all, we’ve buffered and saved them to the point that they grow up still depending on us for things they should be able to do.
Picture a mom at the park with her child. She gets in a scuffle with another child over whose turn it is to cross the monkey bars. The mom’s first instinct is to stand up and make sure all ends in peace.
She figures, What if bad things happen? What if my child does get hurt? What if she won’t know what to do?
Turns out, her child would benefit more if she stayed put and allowed her handle it herself first—even if the resolution doesn’t end on a positive note. Yes, the other child might say something cruel or make her feel belittled or hurt.
But her child will learn how to think for herself when someone hurts her, and find the tools to stand up for what she feels is just. She’ll practice forgiveness and the balance between brushing things off and taking action.
She won’t learn any of this if her mom steps in and tell them what to do. It’s awkward to witness, but even those painful moments are just as valuable as those with a positive resolution.
No doubt, there’s a chance your child will slip and fall off the ladder at the playground, or that she’ll drop her bowl of cereal as she walks it to the dining table.
How can you stop hovering while still being there to guide her when she needs you?
1. Stay nearby
“Not hovering” doesn’t always have to mean you’re completely apart from your child. You can still stay nearby why your child plays on her own.
For instance, she can play with her toys in the kitchen while you cook, or piece a puzzle together while you read on the couch.
You’re nearby, but not directing her activities. You can keep an eye on her while giving her the space to work and play on her own. You’re near enough should she need or want your company, but not hovering that you take over her play or task.
If you’re not sure whether to stay nearby or give her more independence, weigh the benefits and downsides of your presence.
Yes, there’s still a chance she’ll fall on the playground, even after you’ve decided she’s more than capable. But what’s better to project: your fear and hover over her for the slight chance she’ll fall, or the confidence you have about her abilities?
Be present when you’re needed, and if you’re not, step aside, even slightly.
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2. Let your child lead play
Your child can enjoy herself even when she’s not playing “the right way.” She doesn’t have to create the Lego pieces exactly like the picture—she might have more fun creating her own figures and creations.
The best part? She’ll feel more invested in play because she gets to decide how it goes. After all, play is the best way for her to develop skills and manage her feelings. Hovering and telling her how to play defeats that purpose.
Tip: Give kids age-appropriate opportunities. A one-year-old won’t be able to do crafts on her own, much less use scissors. But she can play in her room with age-appropriate toys. Likewise, a toddler can play in the tot area at the park, but might not do too well playing in the big kids playground.
3. Allow your child to figure it out
One of the most difficult parts of giving your child space is watching her struggle. It’s tempting to shield her from hardship, but she’ll benefit with figuring things out herself—even when she fails or makes mistakes.
When you see her struggling to put the wrong puzzle piece, stay back. Don’t solve the problem for her. Otherwise she doesn’t have the chance to figure it out herself.
If she’s truly struggling, say, “Let me know if you need help.” And even then, only provide the minimal amount of help to get her started. For instance, you might help by putting all the pieces picture-side up or suggest that she look for a puzzle piece that’s also blue. All without doing it for her outright.
And use your best judgment and how well you know her capabilities. A child who can climb a playground structure won’t need as much guidance as one who still can’t.
4. Give your child time alone
Perhaps the simplest way to stop hovering over your child is to ensure that he has time alone. Don’t schedule or manage the day so much that he doesn’t have a chance to relax and tinker at home.
That could be the hours after school, or weekend mornings to lounge at home. It could even mean leaving him alone if you see him reading a book. Kids appreciate having time to themselves.
And don’t worry about not paying enough attention to him—he’ll let you know when he’s ready to spend time with you again. He’ll likely stop what he’s doing and come up to you or ask you for help.
After all, giving him autonomy will help him develop that sense of self. He’ll feel motivated to take his own initiative and stay focused because he has a say in what to do.
Hovering is tempting but sends the wrong message. Despite all its good intentions, it tells your child that you don’t think she’s capable of doing it on her own. She isn’t able to trust her own judgment, much less enjoy the activity.
Instead, stay nearby so you can observe and be available should she need you. Follow her lead, allowing her to direct her own play. Give her the opportunity to figure things out and even make mistakes along the way. And finally, provide plenty of time for her to be alone so she can explore at her own pace.
It’s scary, I know. Holding back and letting her figure things out on her own is a challenge for many parents. It might be standing back as she climbs the playground, letting her sort a scuffle with another child, or hanging back so she can do homework on her own.
When you do, she’ll develop a strong sense of self and the autonomy she needs later in life.
Get more tips:
- Parenting Doesn’t Have to Be So Overwhelming
- Why We Should Encourage Competence, Not Confidence, in Children
- How to Encourage Autonomy in Children
- Why Every Parent Needs to Show Empathy
- One Sure Way to Prevent Misbehavior in Children
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