When a Child Gives the “Wrong” Answer to Your Question
I’ve done it. I know you’ve done it too.
You ask a child a question, but you really only want a certain answer.
Then you get a truthful answer from the child. And you’re stuck with that answer, not the one you want.
Maybe you’re frustrated or triggered by the child’s answer. You’ve set yourself up because you entered into the conversation wanting a particular outcome.
I was listening to an NPR book review of The Secret to Happy Families. One of the suggestions was to hold regular family meetings. The commentator, also a mom, had implemented a suggestion to have a family meeting to discuss and define the family values.
I laughed out loud while I was driving when she mentioned that during the discussion her 8 year-old son defined respect as being able to eat at the table with your hands (or something to that effect).
I loved for it for two reasons. It was an honest and truthful response from a child. And, I think respect could absolutely look like honoring a child’s desire to not have to eat with utensils at dinner.
The reviewer jokingly said something about how the meeting just went downhill after that.
At first, I was troubled by the idea that a parent would reject a child’s definition of respect when the child is asked for his opinion. I went a little into judgment mode while listening. And then I thought about all the times I had done exactly the same thing.
I’ve asked a question and then not really liked the answer from the child.
It reminds me that even if I am doing my best to be respectful, sometimes I’m conflicted.
I want to make sure the children in my life feel free to speak their truth. And, sometimes I just want the answer I want.
Both of those things are part of who I am at the same time. And they come into conflict.
That conflict produces frustration and tension internally. Some of this comes from all the things I learned as a child about how children need to conform their answers to meet adult expectations. I fall into the pattern of wanting hear what I want hear. And I want to have authentic relationships with children.
This internal conflict is natural when we are trying to let go of our past conditioning and learn different ways of connecting with children in ways that support and empower them.
I have come to appreciate the discomfort as a sign that there may conflicting ideas and beliefs within me. I have another chance to figure out the origin of that conflict.
In the end I try to allow my truth and their truth to exist simultaneously. So that even when our truths and needs seem to be in conflict, I can hold space for both sets of needs to be met.
When we can hold these seemingly conflicting needs, ideas, and thoughts at the same time, we begin to move beyond the “either-or” and “me vs. them” thinking that is too often reinforced in our cultural expectations about adult-child relationships.
When have you experienced something similar? And what did you do?
Leave a comment, I’d love to know!
And if you’re interested in my free e-book and audio recording on Eliminating Conflict with Children, click here to have it emailed to you.