7 ways to step back from being an “Over-Hovering Parent”
No parent wants their child to suffer heartaches and disappointments. Our basic instinct is to try and protect our kids from frustrations and problems. But doing so deprives our children from developing the confidence they’ll need to deal with the multitude of issues they’ll face in the real world. How will they ever learn to stand up for themselves, take responsibility for their actions, and confidently cope with life if they’ve always relied on us to pick up the pieces and mend fences? That’s exactly why we need to wean ourselves from over-protecting our kids.
The bottom line is simple: If you really want your child to be confident and resourceful your role must be of a guider, and not doer. That simple twist teaches your children that you expect them solve their own problems–whatever they may be—and that you believe they are capable of doing so. It’s the best way to prepare our kids to face life confidently on their own and help them learn to handle whatever problem comes their way.
Here are a few practices you’ll want to adopt in your day-to-day family life to help your children achieve that goal and slowly wean yourself from being an over-protective parent.
1. Identify what your child can do alone and then back off
What tasks might your child be capable of doing instead of relying on you? Maybe it’s time for him to learn to make his own lunch, do laundry, make his bed, call to make his dentist’s appointments. Of course, this will depend on your child’s age, maturation, and current capabilities. The goal here isn’t to overwhelm your child by piling on new your expectations, but gradually introduce one new task at a time when he is ready. So identify one task right now that your child can do alone, teach him how to succeed, and then start expecting him to do it by himself.
2. Stop rescuing!
Have you found yourself rescuing your child a lot lately? “My son is so tired, I’ll do his homework tonight.” “My daughter is too busy, I’ll do her chores this time.” It’s an easy habit to get into, but if you want to raise a confident kid, these are major parent “no-nos.” Start by setting this rule: “We have a new policy: No more excuses. You need to take responsibility.”
If your role has been apologizing, explaining, or basically “doing” for your child, then stop. You child will never learn how to stand up for himself. Instead, he’ll forever by relying on you.
3. Let your child speak for himself
Start requiring your child to explain himself: “No, you have to tell your teacher why your homework is late. It’s your responsibility.” or “I know it is tough telling your friend you can’t go to her birthday, but she’s your friend not mine.” If you want to boost your child’s confidence, he can’t rely on you to be his translator. “I know it is tough telling your friend you can’t go to her birthday, but she’s your friend not mine.” And do remember to reinforce any efforts your child makes to be assertive.
4. Don’t hover
Did you know that parents who encourage their children’s endeavors at a distance are more successful in raising confident kids? In fact, those parents who tend to intervene and interfere in their kids’ social lives actually hinder their children’s relationships with friends. Better to stand back, and supervise your child informally whenever he’s with friends.
5. Boost organizational skills so your child won’t use you as his palm pilot
Is your child misplacing library books? Can’t find his sports gear? Losing teacher notes? Chances are your child’s lack of organization is a big reason why you end up rescuing her. So when there’s another trauma, ask instead: “What can you do to solve it?” For instance, if your child forgets to return his library book every Wednesday, he might hang a calendar to his due date as well as music lessons, field trips, sharing days, tests. Even little ones can draw “picture” reminders. Learning organizing is a skill your child will need for managing his own life so he relies less and less on you as time goes by. It also will help wean you from the role of protector.
6. Teach assertive body language
Of course we want our kids to defend themselves without us stepping in to protect them. But that means we show them how to be assertive. The most important secret to teach your child to use strong body posture: “Look the person in the eye. Don’t look down. Hold your head high and stand tall.” The stance actually helps your child appear more confident.
Next, tell your child to use a strong firm voice, but not a yelling or whiny one. You might need to offer a few comeback lines for him to practice: “Cut it out!” “Get real.” “Thanks, but I’ve heard that one already.” “You noticed; it’s been a problem all my life.” And then practice, practice, and practice together until your child can stand up for himself.
7. Teach brainstorming and try the “Solution Game!”
The next time your child has a problem, don’t be so quick to jump in and offer a solution. Instead, teach him how to brainstorm options. First, say to your child: “Tell me what’s bothering you.” (You might need to help him find the words: “I can’t think of anything to bring for sharing.”) Express your faith that he can work things out: “I know you’ll come up with a solution for your sharing.” Then encourage him to brainstorm ideas. “Don’t worry how silly your idea sounds. Just say it, because it may help your think of things to share.” You might even call it “The Solution Game”; just remind your child to use it whenever he encounters a problem. With enough practice, your child will be able to use brainstorming to solve many troubling issues that creep up during the day without your help. And you’ll be boosting your child’s confidence muscle because he’ll recognize he doesn’t have to rely on you to solve his problems.
If you’ve just had a parenting “a-ha” moment and recognize your child is relying a bit too much on you, then it’s time for a change. One of the simplest ways to influence your child’s future without you is also the easiest to use: stop rescuing! Do not write one more cover-up note to your child’s teacher. Do not apologize to his friend for your child’s hurtful comments. Do not take your kid’s overdue library book back and pay the fine. Do not go back and get your kid’s forgotten soccer shoes for the umpteenth time. Back off from over-protecting. It’s the best way to boost our kids’ confidence so they can survive and thrive without us.
Dr. Michele Borba
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for late-breaking news and research about child development.