A couple of weeks ago my five-year-old came to my husband and me with a problem that he was having with a boy in his school. It was a pretty serious issue which his dad and I handled, together with his teacher, and his teacher commended him for being intelligent and brave enough to tell us.
My husband and I always try to encourage him to be open and honest with us about everything, even if he thinks that he will get in trouble. So, when he told us about the issue it was kind of in a matter of fact way, and came right after his thoughts on wanting to find his true potential and become a Gold ninja when he grows up (Lego Ninjago reference for those not in the know).
It was easy for him to express himself honestly and I was very proud that our encouragement is beginning to stick with him. Now I know that getting a five-year-old to open up to parents is probably not as difficult as getting a teenager to communicate but I believe that once you encourage certain behaviours in early childhood it, more often than not, will stick as your child gets older.
So how do you keep these lines of communication open as the influence that you have on your child starts to diminish as he or she gets older?
As parents we often want to shield our children from the evils of the world. We want them to remain as innocent, trusting and as unfazed by the world for as long as possible and that’s understandable. Realistically speaking, however, keeping our children ignorant will only put them in greater danger in the future. In the real world kidnappers, molesters, drugs and diseases all exist and our children need to be educated about these things from a young age so that they are well equipped to know what actions are right and wrong, what is normal or not normal and what they should do if they do unfortunately become victims.
My son knows the difference between a good touch and a bad touch, the importance of not talking to strangers and telling mummy and daddy if anyone ever touches inappropriately. And we don’t just tell him once and hope for the best, we give him reminders every now and then so that the messages stick and his reactions to any bad situation will become automatic.
As parents it is only natural that we will be curious or concerned about what happens in our children’s lives (especially when we hear of a possible girlfriend or boyfriend in the mix). But nagging your child to talk to you or forcing them to answer your 5 million questions won’t help. If anything, it will probably make them uncomfortable and want to escape your annoying “mummyness”.
When your child is ready to talk, especially if you have always encouraged open communication in your homes, he or she will come to you.
When your child does come to you to talk, do not overreact. Yes, I know, depending on what they are sharing with you, you may want to strangle them or ship them off to boarding school, or if it is something exciting you may for a moment lose your composure and let you embarrassing “mummyness” loose, but don’t.
Think of it this way, if it is something bad, the fact that they came to you to confess or ask for help or whatever the case may be, means that they know that what they have done was wrong and they trust you and feel comfortable enough to come to you. Overreacting may just deter them from coming to you in the future, especially if you are being embarrassing, and that’s not what you want.
Children do stupid things, it is a part of growing up and learning who you are and where you fit in in the world. We are all guilty. So, when your child comes to you to tell you about something that they did that just doesn’t make any sense at all (I mean really, why would you crazy glue a dinosaur to your brother’s head?) don’t judge or make them feel worse than they are probably already feeling. At this point they may just want you to listen as they vent or need some level headed advice.
Now they may not always take your advice, and that’s ok because, again, it is all part of growing up and becoming an independent thinker. So don’t try to force your opinions on your child and don’t make them feel bad for not taking your advice if things do not work out.
Lastly, just be there for your child and let them know that no matter what, you have their back and love them, regardless of how many dinosaurs get crazy glued to their heads.