Summer is winding down and the kids are heading back to school. If you're a "nervous mother," defined as a mom who worries excessively about her child(ren)'s experiences outside the home, this time of year can be very tough. A more popular term is "helicopter parent," which is defined as, "... a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child's or children's experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead."
Every mother has concerns about her kids. However, some moms can't help but think about the "what if"s. For example, "What if my kid falls in with a bad crowd this year? What if my child starts hearing curse words or other kids talking about sex? What if my child gets bullied and doesn't say anything? What if my child's teacher dislikes him? What if she falls behind in a subject? What if my child is unhappy?" These questions are just some of the thoughts that can turn into big worries, even when there's no evidence to support them.
A child's emotional well-being is always a concern. However, if a parent sits the child down after school and interrogates him about his feelings and what happened at school today, this can create a sense of distrust in the child. While the parent is trying to "be there" for the child, excessive questioning can feel like some kind of punishment and the parent is not likely to get a truthful answer. Most likely, the child will tell the mother what she wants to hear just to end the session. It's not unusual at all for a child (especially in the pre-teen and teenage years) to say that school was "fine" every day and leave it at that. A nervous mother will probably not accept that answer and a fight could ensue. The teenager feels that her mother is invading her privacy, which again creates distrust.
So what is a mother to do when she really wants to know what's going on with her child? The best thing you can do is accept the fact that once the child leaves the home, you have no control over what happens to him or her. This is true for most of life as well. While you may do things to feel like you have control (i.e. micromanaging the household, scheduling and structure), the fact is that anything can happen, at home as well as at school. Focus on good things happening and brush off the "what if"s because "if" something happens, you will be able to handle it at the time. Worrying itself is a form of creating control because it makes you feel like you're doing something about the issues you're concerned with. In actuality, you're just making yourself stressed out about something that may or may not happen. Of course, take advantage of "Meet the Teacher" events, open houses and parent-teacher conferences, but try not to go overboard with your interactions with school personnel.
Communication with the child is also key along with accepting lack of control. Instead of grilling your kiddo, take on a casual attitude, accept what he says (no matter how brief) and let him know that you are there should he need to talk - about anything. This approach, over time, creates trust. The child will appreciate that you hear and accept her answers and that when she does have a problem and talks to you about it, you support and help her as best you can.
There are behavioral signs that you can keep an eye out for that will indicate that your child is having trouble. If any of these signs persist over a week or two, it may be time to sit your child down, point out these behavioral cues, and ask him to talk to you honestly. Tell him that you'll love him no matter what is going on and that you just want to help.
- Extreme mood swings: especially with pre-teens and teenagers, if your child's mood differs greatly from "normal" and lasts more than a few days, it's time to talk. This could indicate bullying, drug/alcohol use, friendship/significant other trouble, or depression.
- Becoming extra secretive or silent: if your child all of a sudden stops sharing anything and often "hides out" in her room, it's time to talk. This is a common sign of depression.
- Being extra sleepy or extra hyper: if your child suddenly becomes lethargic or super-energized and it lasts for more than a few days, it's time to talk. These are signs of drug use (energized) and/or depression (lethargy).
- She drops all extracurricular activities: if your child suddenly decides that she doesn't want to play on the team anymore and cannot give you a solid reason, it's time to talk. Your child may be getting bullied or feeling pressure from her peers to change her activities.
- Her "best friend" is suddenly non-existent: if your child has a best friend or a circle of friends and they suddenly disappear from her life, it's time to talk. Your child may be hanging out with a new crowd - and they may be influencing her in not so good ways. This can also be a sign of bullying or depression.
These are just a few signals and signs that indicate a talk is in order. If you'd like to learn about more behavioral indicators, a more comprehensive list can be found here.
It's hard to stop hovering when that's what you've done for years, but it's possible. Letting your child experience mistakes and failure will make him able to cope with life as an adult in a healthier way. Backing off establishes trust and will most likely make your relationship with your child much closer in the long run.