Where Helicopter Parents Need to Hover
We "helicopter" over our kids' wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects... but where are we forgetting to look?
I will never forget the day my daughter told me that Bethany, a girl in her 4th grade class, was annoying her. "What is she doing to you?" I questioned, instinctively protective.
"She's following me around on the playground and sitting by me at lunch!" she quipped, as if that would sum things right up and get me squarely on her side of the matter.
Leslie Blanchard, like other mothers, paid close attention to what was being said about this still unknown classmate from school, a different person in the circle of friends...
"You mean she's trying to be friends with you?" Leslie asked her charismatic, smart and always oozing confidence blonde girl.
Which made the mother instincts conclude that the 'annoyance' towards Bethany was based on the assumption that she wasn't like her. Not bold and eloquent like her "type" of friends.
That's when she realized: She was raising her own worst nightmare.
How could it be possible? Little did Leslie's daughter know that her own mother WAS Bethany in grade school.
"Freckled of face and frizzy of hair, I was an Army brat, always the new girl clamoring for a friend, drawn to the natural confidence of girls like my daughter." Leslie says.
Attending a private Catholic School and with an apparent nice group of friends, Leslie's daughter social life was only joy.
Except that a handful of her cohorts ruled the roost", as she described.
And after calling Bethany's mother her worst fear proved to be true: Her daughter and her classmates were really turning the new-kid-at-school days into a nightmare. They were finding any made-up reason to get rid of Bethany. Which, for her (and for any 4th grader trying to get included in a new circle of friends) felt like torture.
Leslie says she doesn't bother that a few parents think she overreacted. She firmly believes one should address the problem of the 'national bullying epidemic' at its very bottom. At home, with your own kid. For her, the unbiased rejection and lack of interest of her daughter towards the new kid was a "first stage of bullying" display.
Confirmed by Bethany's mother and teachers at school, there was no name-calling, shaming or unkindness. The complete lack of interest on the new kid was like a shield, stopping them from really knowing anything about each other. An attitude based on the judgement that little Bethany had nothing to offer the team.
"After experiencing childhood myself and raising five of my own, I've been on every side of the bullying social dynamic, and I am convinced this is where it begins. A casual assessment and quick dismissal of an outsider", clarifies Leslie.
It is immensely helpful for children's emotional intelligence that parents bring up 'the Social Darwinism topic':
Our own roots of fear of rejection motivates us to react unfriendly towards other people.
Our unconscious "pickiness" for friends is many times backed up by our fear to be picked on.
The best way to expose the Truth and bring light to this shadowy part inside all of us human beings, is to make the kids this revelation:
We all experience rejection, even as adults.
Parents need to admit that they also feel judged by other people. That even grown-ups struggle with acceptance.
"Parents need to call it by name, speak it out loud, shine a bright light in its ugly face.
We need to admit to our children that we too experience this, even as adults. Of course it's tempting to ‘curry favor' and ‘suck-up' to the individual a rung of two above you on the Social Ladder, but every single human being deserves our attention and utmost respect," completes Leslie.
We need to make our kids aware that everyone can add something valuable into our lives.
There's always something nice you can learn with a new kid at school, you can find out you have something in common…or even surprise yourself with the differences.
Everyone can bring unanticipated value to our lives, IF only we let them.
Telling a 4th grader to “Be Nice” is not Enough
You need to specifically instruct them, we need to show them how.
"Explain the Darwinistic social survival instinct that's often motivating and guiding their impulses. I promise you, they can handle it. They already see it on some level anyway. They just need YOU to give it a voice and re-direction," suggests Leslie.
Making up a story can be great to properly speak to young kids in a more engaging way.
Leslie seems to master the art of turning a lesson that can be complex even for older kids, into a simple analogy that her young can understand.
"I walked her through my "ATM Machine Analogy." I explained to her that she had social bank to spare. She could easily make a withdrawal on behalf of this little girl, risking very little."
Leslie assigned her daughter with a simple task: To discover 3 good things about Bethany.
She reveals that, at first, it was a battle. She had to listen to her reluctant girl complaining that other mothers stay out of these matters, and let THEY let their daughters choose their own friends.
But one day, on the ride back from school, her daughter finally told her 3 things about Bethany that she didn't know before.
"We "helicopter" over our kids' wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how "hands off" we are on social issues. No wonder there's zero accountability and a bullying culture!"
Leslie struggles exemplifies the need to instruct and help children with their social issues. And how it impacts MANY lives. Mainly your own kids social life.
Bethany's family moved to another state a few years later and Leslie's daughter cried when "the former annoying girl" who was now a friend, left. "Bethany was a really cool girl, with a lot to offer her peers. But the real value was to my daughter, obviously. She gained so much through that experience. Now, a 20-year-old college sophomore, with a widely diverse group of friends. My daughter is kind, inclusive and open to all types of people," says Leslie.
This amazing experiment show us that:
1 - Our first impression about people is not always motivated by them, but from our own - and limited - point of view.
2 - Contrast is very good when it comes to friendship. Different friends bring unexpected value.
3 - We shouldn't pass the opportunity to welcome people at school, work, neighborhood … It is always rewarding.
Investing on kids social awareness and making an effort into growing kind and thoughtful children MUST be a priority.
Adults should reinforce these qualities, which makes everybody's relationships better. Most importantly, is assures your children will have more quality on her own social life.
"Your kids are going to eventually develop the good sense to wear a jacket and eat vegetables, invest your energy in how they interact within society. If we insist on being the hovering Helicopter Parent Generation, let's at least hover over the right areas," says Leslie. We couldn't agree more!
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