“As is our confidence, so is our capacity.” - William Hazlitt
Kids are over-booked, over-tested, and under-believed in. Stress affects too many children these days. According to recent research, children in the U.S. are the second unhappiest children in the world.
Number one? The U.K., where 8 out of 10 children describe themselves as unhappy. The UK is also one of the most “over-protective” countries in the world when it comes to children. There may be a link.
New research is discovering a connection between child-stress and overparenting. In a Johns Hopkins study, hyper parenting was more closely related to increased anxiety in children than the mental health of the parent or parental rejection.
A mom who tries to control too much robs her child of valuable learning opportunities, including learning how to make decisions. Without these opportunities, children feel less confident and more anxious. Elevated anxiety has also been linked to depression and behavioral issues.
Even toddlers with moms who are too directive in play are more aggressive and more likely to throw the toys. The opposite is also true: moms who are less intrusive tend to have happier children.
Okay, most of us have had our bouts of hovering to one degree or another. I’m a recovering helicopter mom. Especially when the kids were smaller. But a trip to France and its playgrounds cured me of that, as I witnessed the free-for-all circus of kids-fixing-kids and negotiating their own truces, while parents blithely sat around having fun talking to each other. American parents worry about sticks. The French kids swung branches at each other, but somehow managed to survive without incident. Since then I’ve learned to step back a bit, and am still learning.
It’s a tough call in a tough world: when to hover and when to mother, when to protect and when to let go. It takes practice, instinct and trust. We will not get it right every time and that’s okay. But we do need to remind ourselves that children are far more resilient, innovative and powerful than we often give them credit for. Given the right tools and the freedom to pursue their curiosity without fear of failure, mistakes and wrong answers, children thrive.
Five Tips for "Hover Recovery"
1. Let your children know you believe in them, that they are your heroes. Admire, congratulate, encourage. Teach them that they can do anything they set their minds to. How? Stepping back most of time and saying, “I don’t know. What do you think? Go ahead, try it. See if it works.”
2. If you catch yourself hovering, stop. Be encouraging and available if your child really needs your help. But most important, make sure she knows that you believe she can figure it out. Don’t push. If your child is having a hard time and decides to give up, it’s his choice. He will learn more from making his own choice than from making yours.
3. Show vulnerability. It takes humility to say you're sorry when you’ve been wrong. You are giving your children a valuable life lesson when you allow them to see your mistakes and how you correct them. When things go wrong instead of right, one still has the power to create good from it.
4. Don’t do for your children what they must do for themselves. My mom made me start doing my own laundry when I was eight. I remember complaining because none of my friends had to do their own laundry, but she simply responded: “You’ll thank me one day.” I did, when I got to college and I was one of the few in my dorm who knew how to use the washing machine!
5. Free play in a natural environment is one of the most important ways children learn and grow, but today’s children have less play time than ever before. Kids need to climb trees and run a bit wild to develop vital skills like resourcefulness, independence and self-regulation. Recovering hover moms, take heart and a tip from the French: sit on the sidelines and have a good time.