Our children have questions that only we, their parents, can answer…and we need to answer them. They don’t ask these questions directly and they may not even realize they ask them at all. But they do. They ask these questions with their quiet presence and their disruptive presence. They ask them while waiting for us to notice and acknowledge them. They also ask these questions in the form of more subtle, seemingly benign questions like, “Do you like my new hair color?” or “Can we get dessert?” They even ask them with their misbehaviors. Let me share just 6 of the real questions our children are asking in these behaviors, 6 questions they need us to answer.
- Am I important? When our children know we value them, they feel valuable. We communicate how much we value our children by accepting them, listening to them, and taking time to learn about their world. We also express how much we value our children through gratitude. Become a student of your children. Spend time with them. Communicate how important they truly are to you.
- Am I good enough? In fact, am I enough? This question is a question of identity. Our children need to know we that know them and recognize their worth, even when they feel like they’ve failed. This requires us to give them space and assistance, support and encouragement, in exploring their strengths and interests. Our children also need to know they are good enough even when we discipline them. To communicate this message, we need to give them unconditional positive regard, even when we disagree with them or discipline them.
- Do I belong? As our children turn to teens, friends become increasingly important. Still, they need and want family. They need to have a sense of belonging in their family even while they explore and establish a sense of belonging among their peers. This is a tightrope for many families. Let your children try new things. Encourage then to recognize how various groups of people impact them and their behavior. Help them find the peer group in which they feel most comfortable, whether it be the theatre group, the music group, the sports group, the academic group, or some combination of them all. At the same time, always communicate that they will belong in your family no matter the peer group they choose.
- Am I romantic enough? I’m not sure this represents the best way to word this question. It’s a question delving into attraction, romance, and intimacy. Teach your children from an early age that romance entails mutual kindness and respect. Teach them that physical and emotional intimacy cannot be separated without resulting pain. Teach them that restraint and self-control are as important as sex; and, without self-control, sex leads to emotional hurt. “Ultimately, encourage them to wait and wait and then wait a little longer. Waiting for sex is based on good science” (From Raising Healthy Girls). (See Cheat Codes” for Dads: Your Daughter’s Beauty for more.)
- Do you trust me? The answer we give our children to this question begins much earlier than most of us imagine. It begins as early as those toddler years when our toddler says, “No” to our assistance and we step back, trusting them to work at completing the task. It extends into the school years when we put a reasonable structure in place and trust they will complete their schoolwork. They continue this question into adolescence when they ask us if they can “go to my friend’s party” or ” use the car tonight.” Trusting demands a step of faith on our part. Take the step. Trust unless given a clear reason not to. Even then, leave the door open to reestablish trust by taking a step of faith. Remember, a child who feels their parent trusts them is more likely to act in a trustworthy manner.
- Am I strong enough to be my own person? The most difficult aspect of a parent’s job is to prepare their children to become independent adults, to let them leave home and become their own person. This goal is the end result of a process that evolves over their first two decades of life. It is the result of a parent teaching their child a task and then letting them do it independently, even if they want to do it differently than us. It is the result of letting go when they go to preschool, letting go when they go on their first dates, letting go when they drive to the mall on their own for the first time…all while remaining available in the background as a safety net, ready to respond to their call for help IF they need it.
Our children ask these questions every day. We answer them through our words, our actions, and our interactions. For your children’s sake, answer them wisely.