We all know helicopter parenting is a “no-no.” The idea of micromanaging our children enables an unhealthy tendency for our one day grown kids to depend on their parents or other adults to solve their problems. No doubt, helicopter parenting is a behavioral pattern that fosters co-dependency at best, inhibiting self-reliance and a strong sense of autonomy needed to thrive in this world.
Yet there’s a more subtle, more insidious variety of helicopter parenting that many of us (myself included) are demonstrating with our kids that needs to, at the very least, be curbed: imposing our thoughts on a subject without giving our children a chance to consider, form and articulate their own thoughts.
So how do we curb those thoughts and opinions we have? We bite our figurative and literal tongues. We listen. We listen more without reacting. We ask questions and listen some more. We wait. We trust.
A dear friend of mine who has spent a lifetime mentoring kids recently explained the beauty of the biting-one’s-tongue process: “When you ask questions that make a child think and listen, really listen, you are setting the foundation for true cognitive muscles.”
I witnessed the magic of his insight moments later, when my older son talked with him for over an hour. Normally, he’s on the phone for no more than 10-15 minutes with an adult. Curious, I asked him what caused him to talk for so long. His response spoke volumes:
“He’s easy to talk to. He asks good questions and then really listens.”
The mentor and dear friend is the talented author, Steve Bernstein (Stories from the Stoop). I am happy to report that implanting his sage advice has created a subtle yet powerful shift in the relationship between my sons and me. When I approach a conversation from a place of trust in them, in a genuine desire to hear what they think and how they perceive someone or something—without judgement from me, their faith in themselves and in our relationship strengthens.
While there are some clear black and white “rules” in this life that we need to impart by word and deed (i.e., Look both ways before you cross the street; floss your teeth daily), the more nebulous, opinion-based questions to life offer an opportunity for open dialogue founded in both mutual and self-respect. Trust is an invaluable gift we can impart to our children when we actively listen to their words without reacting, offering them a safe space to return to again and again. The gift only grows with time, instilling a grounded sense of faith in their intuition and judgement and demonstrating what a healthy relationship founded in trust looks like.
Our children are hungry to know that they matter, that their thoughts matter. When they feel heard, their self-love ignites. And we all know: Self-love is the foundation for success in any life endeavor.