Start the conversation with your child.
By Georgia Smith-Lyle, LPC-S
Trust and dependence upon the parent or caregiver begin the moment a child is born! As your child grows, consistency with positive parenting skills will set the tone for a closely connected relationship between child and parent. By the time your child reaches school age (5 or 6 years old) they will have hopefully formed a relationship with you based on trust.
Children’s psychosocial development from the ages of 5 to 13 begins with more self-awareness, awareness of others and the world around them. They become more inquisitive and adventurous. Their increased self-awareness will highlight their gifts, talents and challenges.
Encouragement and confidence are very important because comparison of themselves to others will increase. They will listen to conversations others their age (or older) will have and be inquisitive. Some things other children talk about they will be familiar with, while other things they will not understand. The world around them is enlarging and so is the knowledge and awareness of several topics. Below is a list of true questions they may be having but have not yet verbalized to you.
*Mommy, am I pretty?
*Daddy, am I strong?
*Am I smart?
*Am I fat?
*Am I stupid?
*Why does ______not like me?
*My teacher likes _______ more than me.
*I’m not very smart like ______.
*Where did I come from?
*I heard ________talking about sex. What does “sex” mean?
*Why was I born a girl?
*Why was I born a boy?
*Someone likes me. Can I have a boyfriend?
*I think _________is pretty and funny. Can she be my girlfriend?
*Why do _______’s parents not live together?
*Will you and daddy/mommy ever get a divorce?
Do you think they will come to you and talk about what they are thinking or will another child be their first go-to person? Sometimes, another child will be someone they talk to first. However, if you have built a positive, encouraging relationship with them, then they will frequently come to you first. If your child believes they will disappoint or anger you, they will probably not be willing to communicate with you unless you have shown disappointment or anger expressed correctly. Expressing your anger in the right way is important, i.e., without yelling or criticizing.
Set the stage early for a healthy foundation of trust by being open to listen, validating their feelings, never making them feel unimportant or unintelligent, encourage instead of criticize. No matter what your opinion may be as a parent, still be willing to listen. They will trust your leadership and love for them far more if they feel safe to express their thoughts. You can still say your thoughts and be the parent without demeaning or getting angry where they are afraid to communicate with you. The positive foundation you set when they are younger will carry you and them through the “rocky” teenage years with less tension and more respect and understanding.
Let me end with this short example. A friend of mine has a little girl who is about 8 or 9 years old. Last year her daughter told her that a girlfriend liked a little boy. Not thinking much about it, teasingly the mom commented, “Well you better not go and get yourself a boyfriend” or something along those lines. The mom was teasing her daughter and although she may not want her to have a boyfriend at that young age, my friend knows that little crushes do happen and she is all right with that.
However, my friend did not realize her daughter took the comment seriously! This year a little boy started liking her daughter and her daughter had a little crush on him too. The mom suspected it but her daughter wasn’t openly telling her. One day her daughter’s girlfriend told her mom that her daughter liked this one boy but was afraid to tell her. When my friend casually asked her daughter if she liked this little boy, her daughter at first denied it. Her mom then revealed someone told her she liked the little boy and it was okay to tell her. Her daughter broke down crying and said, “I do like him, mommy, but I was afraid you would be mad at me if I told you.” This hit home for my friend. She realized her casual, teasing words last year stuck with her daughter and caused her to not be open with her mom. The mom was crushed and learned a valuable lesson about choosing words wisely, and making a safe place for her child to talk.
There are so many things children need to be able to tell their parents. Make a safe place for them to speak their minds and ask you questions before they go and ask others who may not give them the same safe advice or guidance.
Georgia Smith-Lyle, LPC-S, is in private practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas providing counseling for children, adolescents, adults, marriage and family. She has authored two books and is a public speaker. Georgia may be reached at 469-855-0256 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org. counselingbygeorgia.com.