I have spent the past 20 something years talking to kids of all ages. In that time I have heard many of the same themes expressed by kids. Most often kids tell me that they don’t feel like their parents understand them or what life is like for them each day. The problem is that many kids do try to express to their parents, but feel misunderstood and invalidated, so they stop communicating with their parents about what they want or need from them. I believe one reason for this is because developmentally kids, especially young kids, find it challenging to see other people’s perspectives. It is as though they assume you have a mind reading super power, and so you know what is going on in their head. The other reason is that parents don’t ask. Most adults have a difficult time telling another adult how they would like them to change or do things differently, so imagine how difficult it is for a child to tell a parent. There needs to be trust and an assurance that the parent will listen. This truth is not meant to make parents feel guilty. We all get busy with life and “adulting” is hard work, but it doesn’t hurt to stop and reflect. It doesn’t hurt to ask yourself, “what can I do to improve my relationship with my child[ren]?” The majority of parents I have worked with want to do better and improve the parent-child relationship. We have to remember that it is not just about our kids listening to us. We also have to listen to them, and role model reflective listening and validation (see my earlier blog, May 2022). We are driving new cars with new technology as our world evolves, so why are still using the same parenting strategies as our own parents? So, as a starting point of a conversation you might like to have with your kids, I will go through some of the things I have heard.
Parents and kids often become trapped in control battles. During these conflicts, both parties misinterpret each other’s intentions. A parent may consequence or place demands due to concerns. However, children misperceive this as control. Accordingly, they fight back for control. This leaves the caring parent befuddled and angry of the child’s rejection of their concern. This escalates the parent into more authoritative responses, and the child rebels, and the power struggle continues.
Logical and natural consequences work better than punishments. The consequence needs to fit the behaviour, otherwise it just feels like they are a victim and not responsible for what they did. I had a child tell me they were grounded for three weeks ~ no phone, no video games and no after school contact with friends. This child had been late for curfew once, and this was the punishment. This would be similar to receiving a driving suspension for speeding by 10 km over the posted speed limit. A harsh punishment that doesn’t fit the crime. I believe we should listen to the kids.
You and me alone time (YAMA time) can be a lot of small moments, and it can have a large impact. A wink, a rub on the back, an “inside joke”, a favourite meal, a favourite movie night, joining them in their favorite activity (even if it is fort nite) are simple ways to share space with them and make them feel special and connected to us. When this foundation is built, this is where they will talk to you and share their life with you.
These are just a few of the wishes I hear children express, and there are many more. Kids won’t just tell you these thoughts, we have to create a safe space for them and be curious about them. If we stay in sync with our kids, we will get clues (be the detective) of what they really want us to know. Asking our kids what they wished we knew, or what we could do differently as a parent, doesn’t put them in charge, it just gives us insight into what they need.
Friedberg, Robert D., McClure, Jessica M., & Garcia, Jolene Hillwig., (2014) Cognitive Therapy Techniques for Children and Adolescent: Tools for Enhancing Practice, New York.: The Guilford Press.
Miller, Alec L., Rathus, Jill H., Linehan, Marsha M., (2007) Dialectical Behaviour Therapy with Suicidal Adolescents, New York.: The Guilford Press
Blog Post by Registered Social Worker, Tammy Wagner