Thursday, 10 August 2017

Hummingbird Parenting: Letting Our Children Do Things (Imperfectly) For Themselves

 I wanted to write about something another Montessori parent mentioned on Instagram the other day which has had me thinking.

 She spoke about watching her daughter struggle with removing clothes from her doll, and how it fascinated her to see her child so focussed, determined to problem solve for herself. She mentioned how this was a huge shift from how she had approached this type of situation a short while before.

Hovering Nearby, Not Over

In parenting, I tend toward the hummingbird side of the spectrum, rather than the helicopter parenting so often seen these days.

hover near my children, giving them safe and purposeful freedoms which encourages deeper focus, concentration, independence, and self-confidence, careful not to intervene, much as I might want to, unless they truly need assistance.

Does this mean I look like a mean mom while my child struggles to shimmy down from the play structure? Maybe.
Does this mean I look like a lazy mom because my child is getting himself some bread with peanut butter? Maybe.
Does this mean I sometimes wait an extra twenty minutes while my child tries to navigate a pair of underwear? Yeah.

But I'm doing it on purpose, and I know my children will be better for it.

What is The Harm in Overhelping Our Children?

Children struggle with things daily.
This struggle is an important aspect of their development.
In order to explore and master new skills and abilities, children need the freedom to struggle, and 
eventually overcome, these struggles.

If we help them with something they could have safely learned to do themselves, we undermine their creative abilities, sending the message that we can do it better.

My children have shown they need space to learn to trust themselves. They need space to problem solve an obstacle or complete an exercise for themselves.

Yes, it is hard.

I find myself often repeating a quote from Maria Montessori:
"Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed." Maria Montessori

Why Are We So Quick to Intervene?

That post on Instagram the other day was a good reminder of why Montessori encourages we step back and let our children figure some harmless things out for themselves.

I think it is all too easy to feel we must help our children far more than they actually require us to.

When he sees a child making great efforts to perform some seemingly fruitless action which he himself could do in an instant and much more perfectly he is pained and attempts to assist the child. [Maria Montessori, Secret of Childhood, pg 88]

Maybe it is frustrating, or agonizingly slow, to watch a child as they slowly maneuver a sock over their toes, place a book in its slot on the book rack, or get down from the tiniest of ledges.

We know how easily, or quickly, the task could be accomplished if we just stepped in.

Maybe we are quick to rush in to save our child from frustration or harm as they attempt something that is not inherently unsafe, but that we do not think they are capable of overcoming.

We do not give them room to surprise us.

But I encourage you:
  • Allow your child to test every side of a puzzle piece
  • Watch them problem solve how to open the garbage can to dispose of their own trash
  • Give them the freedom of dressing themselves
  • Let them pour themselves a glass of water
  • Don't rush to help them when they think they are stuck on a chair

I believe we give our children so much more than a new skill or independence when we step back. 

Watching the pride and satisfaction they have in their accomplishments shows something so much more. We have sent the message that they are capable, they are worth the extra time and effort, they are human beings worthy of respect.

Never Wanting When Needed

Of course, as a hummingbird parent, I am not abandoning my child to their own devices. As I mentioned above, I am careful to hover nearby observing my child, ready to offer assistance if they become frustrated or simply cannot do a task they have undertaken.
"The help that never stands in the way of [formation] is never wanting when needed, but is never over-assertive, never over-forced. [Margaret E. Stephenson]

Thank you for reading! 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. I would also love to hear any suggestions for posts you would like me to write about. And if you are interested in following along in our daily adventures, follow us on Instagram where I post daily.

God bless,
Olivia Fischer


  1. I loved this post!! That is so cool, I've never even consciously thought about that before but it's so true!

  2. This post is sooo good Olivia! Loved it!