Coffee Break - Finding the Balance: Helping vs. Hovering


Most kids are home full time now and parents across the nation are adjusting to a new normal. Children are very different in a school setting versus a home setting, so you may discover aspects you never knew about your child. More often than not, you are realizing that they are capable of more than you anticipated. How can we find that balance as parents between helping and hovering? Note, this post is geared more toward parents with elementary students at home, but many of the skills and approaches can be applied toward various ages.

Helping vs. Hovering

First, you must be able to distinguish between the two aspects. Helping your child with work is one thing, but hovering and constantly hand-holding is completely different. Guiding your child at various times throughout the day may be a very necessary thing, depending on his or her age. It is completely all right to answer questions and help organize his or her schedule, as well as help ensure all material is accessible. The key word here is help. Don't do it all for your child. If you are setting up your child's space every day, making a to-do list for him or her, and micromanaging the way in which the work is completed, you may have crossed over into the hover stage. Believe me, this is a whole lot easier to do than you might imagine. I myself fell into this trap early on. Remind yourself of the key skills your child gains at school: independence, learning to accept responsibility for one's work, learning how to organize. By hovering, you will make it easier for your child to avoid these skills. How can you help encourage the development and growth of these skills in your home space? You know your child best and have a clearer idea of how they function, so you already have a leg up in this process. This is also a great time to learn how they approach learning and what techniques work best. As a parent and teacher myself, I am going through this learning process right along with you. Let's take this as an opportunity to learn more about our kids and how we can best help them.

Why does hovering happen?

"But I'm not a helicopter parent," "We've always encouraged his independence," "She is more than capable of doing this work on her own." Sound familiar? We all have the best intentions and want to respect our children and their abilities. If you have fallen into the hover trap, you are not alone, and it does not reflect at all how you perceive your child's abilities and strengths, or how you parent. Sometimes, as with anything in life, it is just easier to do things yourself. Especially now, when everyone is home and you may be balancing your own personal at-home work, schooling, and around the house tasks, giving that extra bit of time for your at-home student to create his or her own to-do list and set up his or her own space just seems unnecessary. Yes, it might take a bit longer for these things to get done, but resist the urge to step in.

Avoiding the hovering trap

Preparation and Set-Up

As mentioned above, setting up for each day is a prime opportunity for parental hovering. You know what needs to be done and the most efficient way to do it, so why not get everything set up for your child? It may seem helpful, but resist the urge. Let your child know what is needed for the day or the task at hand and let him or her navigate the set -up process. You can set an example by organizing the things you need at the same time so it feels like a joint effort and you aren't tempted to step in.

Completing the work

This is a challenge, for sure. Let's talk about timeline first. You probably have an idea of when and how work should be completed throughout the day, but your children need to figure that out for themselves as well, with guidance of course. Looking over their shoulder or peeking your head in to their work space every five minutes will not help them finish in the timely manner you see fit. Instead, consider starting each day with a to-do list. Teach them how to forward think and write down all tasks that must be completed by the end of the day. This will also help them learn goal-setting and time-management. Urge them to check things off as they go for a bonus confidence booster. Then, schedule a meeting at the same time each day to touch base and see how things are going. This holds them accountable, allows you to have a hand in the process, but avoids the stress that hovering puts on everyone involved.

Now let's touch briefly on how the work is completed. Chances are your child will not complete the work as neatly or as detailed as you feel it should be done. It's okay. Remember that they are children and still learning how to dive deep in writing or, perhaps, not rush through so they can run and play with those Legos that are right down the hall. Pick your battles here. If they are working on a piece of writing and wrote two sentences without much detail, that is a great opportunity to discuss the importance of examples and how to grow their ideas. If they've completed a math assignment that looks a bit messier than your liking, ask yourself if it is really necessary to call it to their attention. It may be more beneficial to focus on positive reinforcement and encourage positive self-talk (encouraging yourself in order to improve performance.) Rather than criticize the messy piece of work, notice when the work looks great and call it to your child's attention: "I noticed that this assignment is super neat! Great job! You must have really enjoyed it." Bring their attention to what they are doing well and build those strong habits.

Final Thoughts

This will never be easy, nor will it be the same every day. Some days are better than others and that is a-okay! The thing to bear in mind is the ultimate goal. Is your goal to help your child learn the material, or just to get the work done? Are you building skills for the future, or coping methods to get through the right-now? Also be aware that your methods might not be what works best for your child, so be open to having that discussion to determine what will work. You are helping your child develop skills that will ease them back into the day-to-day school life once things go back to normal as well, so bravo! If you provide the tools and take a step back, your child might surprise you! This is an adventure for everyone, so remember you are not alone. I encourage parents to join Facebook groups or participate in virtual parent happy-hours to connect with other parents and share your successes and frustrations.

As always, we are here to help. If you need any encouragement or guidance throughout this process, please do not hesitate to reach out.