How to Resist the Temptation to Hover

As a mom who has suffered with bouts of anxiety, I understand what it's like to have to say to myself, "Don't hover," but I have seen parent after parent, most without any anxiety symptoms, hovering over their kids.

The first time I saw hovering was at a Mommy and me class. The babies were mostly between 14 and 18 months. There was one 2-year-old. We were working on an art project and I just sat there and let my girl make her mess, while most of the other moms were taking over to make the art projects look perfect. They had missed the whole point of the class apparently: to give the little ones a sensory experience and some fine motor practice. Oh and let's not forget: give the little ones some fun! Creating is a good time. When we all left, miraculously all the art projects looked perfect besides my daughter's, which was exactly the whole point.

I said to one mom who was fussing over an unglued part, "Don't worry — it's not the finished product but the process that matters. Besides they're just babies."

From fixing your child's homework to panicking that he or she might get hurt (mea culpa — that's me!), hovering can be hard to do especially if it's your first child. Here are some strategies to get you to ease up and back off depending on in which way you like to hover.

The Homework Hoverer

You hate watching your kid struggle to get the right answer when you already have it in your head. Besides, who wants to see her child come home with a bad grade? No parent on the planet! But you need to tell yourself to back up, Homework Hoverer!

Perhaps you were a straight-A student and your child isn't. Perhaps your child has a learning issue and the struggle has been real. No matter what the reason for your hovering, tell yourself this: Every time you obsess over each thing with your child's homework or do it over for him or her, you are ripping learning straight from your kid's hands. You are not letting your kid learn. Instead, you're doing the load for your little one and later on in life, he or she will expect others to do the same. Besides, what good is it if you fix his homework and then he fails a math test because mom didn't give him the chance to make mistakes in the right place (homework) and not the wrong (an exam)?

Life will go on if the homework gets a minus or less than satisfactory. Life will go on if your child is not an A. If your child is really struggling, then you need to speak to the teacher, work with a tutor, or possibly get a learning disabilities evaluation or any combo of the three, but don't you dare fix each item on that homework, Mom!

The Playground Hoverer

Oh this is my area of weakness. Part of this stems from the fact that my visual-spatial vision stinks and to me, objects may be more distant or closer than they appear!

First combat the imaginary dangers vs. realistic ones:

I had to tell myself that there were realistic dangers and imaginary ones. Start there. For me, this one park had very high places and fall zones that were designed for 5-to-8-year-olds, and not the little 2-year-old I had. She was always smart about her moves, but independent. I had to follow her through tough zones and for the rest, let her climb, jump, and do whatever she could realistically for her age. Chances of her slipping on age-appropriate structures are small but if it happened, she would be OK. Chances of her falling down a large drop designed for a big kid were high and had to be avoided or monitored.

When you start to panic or feel yourself hovering ask yourself, "Is this a real or imaginary danger? Am I being paranoid?"

Watch the other kids:

While I am not an advocate of mimicking other parents' styles, if you see other parents with kids your age comfortable navigating a playground structure, remind yourself that it's a developmentally appropriate structure and that you need to chill out.

You're a good parent:

Look, you're not walking away and using your phone while your kid plays the whole time, are you? I hope not. Remind yourself you're present and watching and that bumps and scrapes are a part of life and that you're a diligent parent who will be able to avoid a major mishap from happening. And even if the worst happens, it will most likely be just fine.

In any case, finding a playground that allows for easy falls and is age-appropriate for your kid should allow you to back up and relax a little. Also, face the facts that most of our little ones want to go to that "big boy or girl" section at the park and navigate it appropriately. Watch your face for signs of fear and hold back on the emotional outbursts. You don't want your child to become fearful of a joyful experience.

The Social Hoverer

Your child is trying to make friends at a social event or park, and there you are telling him every two seconds what to do, or worse, your shy kid is doing nothing and so you push, push, push her to socialize.

Back off, Mommy!

This is tough. On one hand, you should demonstrate, model, and encourage your child to make friends. It's up to you to show him what manners look like and how to introduce yourself to a new person especially in the early childhood years, but there's a difference between modeling and controlling (hovering).

A shy child may need the nudge in order to open up, but pushing your quiet kid to become the most popular kid in school is never going to work. Why do parents tend to do this? What parent doesn't want her kids to have friends and shine socially? None, so parents tend to overdo it in this department or perhaps push for fear of their child becoming an outcast. Like all hovering, the intent and feeling is coming from a good place — not wanting your kid to fail — but by doing this, we are teaching our kids exactly how to fail later on in life.

If you're a social hoverer, step back and do this:

  1. Applaud: Any efforts your child makes to socialize should be applauded later on in private. Keep comments to yourself momentarily.
  2. Sit back and socialize yourself: Perhaps keeping your own self busy will help you hold back that urge to hover or maybe you're a more social person than your child and need to realize you need more people time than he or she does!
  3. Encourage with suggestions: Give your child suggestions on how to break into the crowd and then step back. This is supportive and not hovering.
  4. Reality check: All kids have fights, heartaches, and rejections. It's painful to see as parents, but you can't keep your kids in a bubble. Teaching them how to handle these pitfalls is valuable for their adult years!

The "I'll Do It For You" Hoverer

Then there are the parents who do everything for their kids because they don't like spills, need to be somewhere in a hurry, aren't patient, or want things done perfectly. Heck, all of us parents have felt those things before but . . . giving your child the opportunity to do things now for herself while the stakes are low means she will know how to do things for herself while the stakes are high, which you want! This hoverer is most commonly seen in early childhood. Here are some tips to bite back the hovering tendencies:

Do you really need to get there right now?:

We are always in a rush it seems as people, but truly, do you really need to get to Target right now? Most likely not. Sure, you need to arrive to work on time, but when you can, take extra time. Let your kid zip his coat. Let him pack his bag. The world will keep on turning if dinner is 30 minutes late.

Kids can do more than you think:

Google around to see all the things your 2-year-old is capable of doing. Give your kids opportunities to do things on their own, even if they end up a shambles. Chores should start early. Kids are more capable than you think. The more you realize this, the more you will prepare your kid to be strong, confident, and capable.

Hoverers, Don't Be Ashamed

Many parents hover, at least with the first kid to some extent. You need to realize that you're doing it and then consciously tell yourself these strategies to back away. No mom wants to wish sadness or failure on her kid, but if your kid doesn't learn to fail now, he or she won't handle the big challenges later on in life! Remember also that if your hovering tendencies are tough to control, it's possible you have anxiety and need to talk to someone about it. Don't feel ashamed; taking charge and doing something about the issue makes you a great role model mom!