Wait…Is Hovering Really a Good Parenting Strategy?

A recent New York Times article suggests that the “bad news” about “over-involved” parents is that this style of parenting appears to have myriad benefits, regardless of the education level of the parents themselves. In other words, if you’re ensuring your child is well-fed, well-slept, getting adequate exercise and has limits set for him regarding screen time and play, he is more likely to do well in school and attain success later in life. He has more of those magical qualities like perseverance and grit, which we’ve been hearing so much about for the last decade in education and parenting circles.

The Times, however, does not delve into what exactly “hovering” means in this constellation of parenting behaviors, so it may help to clarify: setting boundaries, being involved, listening, having time to take your child to his chosen activities, supporting him on difficult tasks, noticing when things aren’t quite right, are inarguably productive behaviors.

They are also not “hovering.”

Hovering is when we tell a child to do something, and we stand over him and await compliance. It is when we do things for or with our child that our child needs to be able to do for himself. Hovering is not supporting or scaffolding. It is ensuring success through the exercise of our own abilities. Hovering is motivated by the desire to protect, compete and control. It’s a fear-based behavior that we all sometimes fall into, but it is not a productive behavior unless fear and control are warranted. In fact, it’s teacher-training 101 to give directives, support struggling students, correct unwanted behavior and walk away. Walking away gives a child space to make his own choices and to develop necessary stamina and focus. To get “in the zone” and to improve concentration, students must learn to wrestle with their own minds. We must learn to learn—we must feel the sense of things coming together. These are internal cognitive experiences, and all kids must have them.

“Hovering” has become a buzzword for all kinds of excessive or obnoxious parental behaviors. But the meaning of being too close for comfort when a child is engaged in his own work should be retained. Hovering is an intrusive behavior, while learning, and the joy and satisfaction that come from it, are often among our kids’ most significant personal growth experiences–and they require personal space.

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