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Are our children telling us things openly and honestly? More importantly, are we being the parents our children can feel safe being honest with?
Now, that’s a billion dollar question. You know, as parents we all want our children to be open and honest with us. And we also know it’s not something we can keep telling them repeatedly and expect it to happen. It needs a lot more than that to ensure that our children are able to freely communicate with us without apprehensions. Most of the times we think that we have instilled that confidence and trust in our children. Many of us even choose to believe that our children will come to us regarding anything, and honestly tell us things as they are, but that may not always happen.
It’s not because they don’t want to tell the truth. It stems from the fear of disappointing their parents or consequences they might have to face due to their actions. And that fear is unintentionally instilled in them by us; by the way we react to their honesty. So, over a period of time, our kids get the feeling that it’s better to lie or twist the truth a bit to make it sound more acceptable to us, and avoid unnecessary repercussions.
Though we keep telling our kids that they can come to us regarding anything without hesitation, a lot of times our actions don’t complement our words. And we all know actions speak louder than words.
So when the time comes and our children come to us and tell us something honestly, we end up doing one of these:
And thus, slowly over time, children realise that it’s easier not to tell us or better yet, tell us what we want to hear.
And that’s not good news.
I am guilty of having done a few of the above myself as a parent, and I have realised that this happens many times without our conscious understanding of the situation.
Most of the times our reactions to situations are already hard-wired in our brains by years of conditioning; by observing our parents react to situations. So when a situation presents itself, your reaction is pre-set already without your conscious knowledge. You will automatically, by default, react the same way your mother/father did, no matter how much you would not want to.
How’s that for a shocking realisation? But that’s just how it is; unless we consciously re-wire by reacting differently, it is not going to change. It is just too hard because it takes conscious effort from our end to undo a lot of neural pathways already set in our brains for years.
Ok, I’m deviating from the actual topic at hand, but if you want to read more on this then the amazing book on Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman is just the book for you.
It has happened so often that when my kids come home a bit late from wherever they were supposed to be returning from, the anxious mother in me is not ready to hear any reasonable excuse. So when my kid prances in happily and regales me about how he met some of his school friends on the way back and lost track of time, all I could think of was giving him a piece of my mind.
I later realised that if I did that, he will probably try to think of a better excuse next time instead of telling me what really happened. Thankfully the realization occurred sooner rather than later, and therefore I try (by that I mean really, consciously, try) and stop myself from blurting out whatever I would otherwise have done on auto-pilot. Instead I try to state calmly to him that I was really worried, and it would be better that the next time around, he could keep me informed in case of any delay. That way, there is no fear in him regarding consequences, and an understanding & expectation sets in.
Another time my kids come home and announce that they got their exam results. They start off excitedly about all the subjects where the scores are brilliant and save the one they are not so proud of, for the last. Once the cat is out of the bag, I have half a mind to immediately start bombarding them with questions like “where did you go wrong” “how did you lose marks” “didn’t you prepare well” etc etc.
Honestly speaking, I have uttered those phrases quite animatedly and absent-mindedly many times, because my brain is hard-wired that way; but I have consciously tried hard to suppress those outbursts and tell myself that I need to do this if I want that honesty and fearlessness in my kids.
So instead I find myself saying the much rehearsed, “Hey, you have done well in most of the subjects. And about the one in which you did not do well, try to get a better score next time”. And till date, I don’t see my kids afraid or anxious about telling me their marks. Are they disappointed? Well, yes. But scared, no, not at all.
So neither is there room for selective narration nor is there hiding of unsavoury parts.
Same goes for when my kids come to me with questions that I may not be comfortable discussing; I have to tell you that I am a bit old school, due to my conservative upbringing. And therefore I have to really try hard to keep a straight face and be honest with my kids regarding anything they ask. I have faced quite a lot of such questions, discussions and debates. Though I have my inhibitions in addressing certain topics, I try to make sure that it doesn’t hinder the spontaneity with which my kids come to me to discuss these topics.
I also make sure my attitude, body language and tone is neutral while taking in their questions no matter how earth shattering it might seem to me. Because I don’t want my child to feel embarrassed or make him/her feel that he/she had said something they shouldn’t have. My only purpose is to make sure that my actions are such that make my kids would come to me for anything without a second thought, and that they should feel okay about telling me anything.
Nothing is taboo, nothing is off limits.
And if we don’t do this because we don’t feel comfortable, they will find someone else to discuss it with. If you tell them they are too young then again they will find someone else who will explain it to them; and if you tell them that we will discuss it later and don’t do that later then they will never come to you with it again.
We might pretend that they forgot about it and heave a sigh of relief, but let’s get real. Yes, you guessed it right; they would have found someone else to discuss it with. And believe me, that someone who is explaining and discussing those topics with your child is most probably a friend who is no older than your kid, or a slightly older kid who could be painting an unwanted & false image in your kid’s mind. We wouldn’t want any of that, do we? No one else can explain things better than us, no matter how uncomfortable the topic is.
So all I would say is let’s get talking whenever an opportunity presents itself, and create a positive environment for our children to come to us without inhibitions.
Let’s make it safe for our kids to be honest; and make sure our actions and reactions speak the same language our words convey.
Published here earlier.
Image source: By Muhammad Mahdi Karim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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A mother of two amazing kids and a teacher by profession, I have varied interests.
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