4 magic questions that will help parents better understand their child

4 magic questions that will help parents better understand their child

Children are not grownups. Parents often forget that and have too high expectations from them, putting too many burdens on their shoulders, which they are not able to handle. Children, just like grownups, have their own problems, emotions, feelings, experiences. It is the duty of parents, be they present or away, to understand what is happening to their children.

There are 4 magic questions a parent can ask themselves and seek answer to, in order to better understand their child:

  • What does the child feel?

Emotions are for children as breathing is for you. Their reactions and behavior externalize their inner world. If you want to understand your child, remember to ask yourself as often as possible what he/she feels and seek answers.

  • What does the child want to tell me?

Some children can express their thoughts, emotions. Others hide them. Some children have a limited vocabulary, others don’t know how to articulate what they feel, find it more difficult to get over the painful separation from the parent and develop inappropriate/problematic reactions or behaviors (refusal to communicate; unexcused absence from school; running away from home; risk behaviors).

Parents wonder Why? – Because the child has a message for you and is sending out a signal to you. It is the time to explore what upsets him/her.

There is a reason for any exaggerated and especially systematic behavior. It may be a repressed emotion or an unsatisfied hidden need.
Avoid asking “Why are you doing that?”. You will get no answer, because most of the times the child is not aware of the reason of his/her behavior. If you insist, he/she may feel compelled to give you an answer and will find a reason, which is unlikely to be the real one.

  • What do I want to communicate to my child?

Every time when you don’t understand your child’s behavior you can choose between the messages, which express love “I love you” and the destructive messages “You always do the wrong things, you are not good for anything, and you don’t deserve it.” Most often parents get angry not because they don’t love their children and wish bad for them, but rather because they don’t know how to manage a situation and their feelings. Nervousness and stress block their ability to keep calm and have a constructive and mutually beneficial approach.

After you understand what your child feels, what triggers his/her reactions or behaviors you would probably like to fix the things that went wrong. Threats, criticism and blame do not work. Try to see the good side of your child’s actions and encourage him/her to figure out where he/she can use it, e.g. “You are very resourceful, what a nice dress you have made out of the curtains. I appreciate your ideas. I’d prefer you to ask for my advice next time and we will use other fabrics instead of curtains. By the way, why don’t you attend a center for kids where you could demonstrate your skills?”

This message tells the child that you respect his/her need for expression, while also suggesting that he/she should not destroy things.

  • Why am I doing it?

Before giving instructions to your child, forbidding or refusing the child, which makes him/her feel that you don’t understand him/her, ask yourself: “Why am I doing it? What makes me accept or refuse my child’s request? What makes me have this attitude? Is it the social norms, my education, the traditional reactions of many parents, convenience or common sense? Will the answer that I will give my child be appropriate?”

If your children are not willing to answer your questions, try another approach. For instance, instead of asking them what they did on that day, tell them what you did and see if they react. Or, if you want to find out what the children think about a situation, ask questions that are not directly related to them. Ask, for instance, what their friends think about it and what advice your children would give to those friends.

Examples of messages and questions that open up the communication with the child:

  • “You will stay angry and upset if you choose to keep quiet. Instead, you could tell me or write to me what is bothering you”
  • “I think that M. is very demanding with you. I suppose you find it difficult to cope with her claims. If you told me certain things at least I would know how I can help you”
  • “What do your friends think about it? What about your teacher?”
  • “What could we do in your view to handle it?”
  • “You wrote to me about the situation X, it is not easy for you. Have you thought already what to do or you would like to talk about that?”
  • “You don’t look excited… Do you think it is better to choose doing something else?””
  • “Did anything happen during the … class? One of your classmates posted on Facebook that she was very angry… “