This would have to be the toughest part of parenting. As a parent we all want to support our kids in the best way we can that ensures they’re safe, making good choices and building healthy relationships with others and most importantly, themselves. The scariest part to this is having trust in their decision-making abilities.
So how do we build trust? How can we ensure that our kids are safe?
It starts with having open conversations about the most important things that have happened in their day. These conversations aren’t about snooping or prying into their lives. They’re about checking in on how they are managing their lives. The purpose here is to recognise the gaps in their decision making and facilitate understanding on how they can do it better.
These conversations must be had with the thought of resisting the thrill to tell them how they must do and live their lives. No body likes hearing how to live their lives from anybody. Especially kids. The best way of facilitating these types of open conversations is to lead your child’s thinking via open ended questions.
I hear so many parents asking their children closed questions that are designed to give the ‘right’ answer or the answer that the child thinks their parent wants to hear.
One day, my 8-year-old son got into trouble at school. We were having a conversation about what had happened and how he was feeling about his actions and the actions of others that were involved. I asked him – “how could you have handled this differently?” His reply was – “to make better choices.” The problem was he didn’t know what better choices were.
What I learnt from his response was that he had learnt what his school had needed him to say so that they could check the box that says that he heard what they said and gave the ‘right’ answer that covers their arse. I then questioned passed the ‘right’ response and got to the real issue. The real issue was that he wanted to be liked by another student and that put my son in a position where he felt he had to do something silly to gain the attention of that other student. This ultimately got him into trouble.
Now, for most parents and educators, they ask questions that ensure a yes or no response or look for a certain outcome from their kids. The challenge with this is that our kids become robots and learn how to give you what you want to hear and never grow. That is a reason for them repeating the same mistakes over and over again. They haven’t learnt anything from the experience.
However, by asking questions that allow them to think and feel, we get to have in-depth conversations around the different choices they make and the different choices they didn’t even know were available to them. By having these conversations, where there can be no consequences, we are able to build a level of trust in their decision making to build healthy relationships that keep them safe.
At the start of this process, it will feel like you’re pulling teeth. They may not even engage with you. This could be due to a few different things. The first major issue here is that our children may not trust us with what they see as very important information. They are afraid as to what you will do with this information and if there is a punishment in it for them by disclosing this information. Most people can’t help themselves, when talking with someone who is making bad choices, to be condescending and tell them what they should do and how they should do it. This strategy has a negative impact on the trust factor between children and parents.
The reason for this is because our children don’t disclose their secrets to us for fear of judgement and criticism. Parental judgement is the number one factor in our children not speaking with us. This judgement only adds to an already anxious mind in our children that causes them to continue to keep a hold of their secrets. They only disclose their secrets because it may have gotten too big for them. Their challenges have gotten to a point where they need adult guidance, not judgement.
The other major reason that our children don’t engage with us in open conversations is that in most cases they don’t know what real support looks like. I know that you support them with everything you have. Unfortunately, we as parents can be overbearing for our children and if we put ourselves into their shoes for just one moment, we will realise that when they look around at their world, everyone is telling them who they have to be and how to live their lives.
So, to combat these issues that prevent our kids from having open conversations, we must stay patient. I know it’s a hard one to do. However, it is vital to the successful engagement into our kid’s worlds. We are the models for them to learn and grow. It’s not about telling them what to do and who to be, its about showing them how to be. How to overcome your challenges and utilise those around you in a resourceful way. How to work through a problem that may be too big for you to do alone.
In those moments where you feel frustrated and it feels like you’re at the dentist getting teeth pulled, become as curious as possible. That is the key to having these conversations. Our kids are in no way close to being fully developed. That means that they aren’t going to see things like an adult. They aren’t going to speak and form ideas like an adult. Curiosity wins over dictation and frustration. Every time!
So in closing, to be a supportive parent, we must move away from parent and move into mentor in those open conversations. It’s the only way to ensure engagement and that we can be of REAL assistance to our children’s challenges.