When a Child Gives the “Wrong” Answer to Your Question

I’ve done it. I know you’ve done it too. Teresa Graham Brett Parenting for Social Change

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.


2 Comments on “When a Child Gives the “Wrong” Answer to Your Question

  1. I think respect works both ways. The child’s definition of respect is fine, however, you too can put your viewpoint forward without being disrespectful to the child’s ideas. You can acknowledge that eating with hands would be fun but it doesn’t work for you because you are worried about …more mess, sticky fingers touching things, you feel it is impolite…. Whatever your concerns are and ask for ideas on how to problem solve this difference of opinion so that the solution works for everyone. That is respect. Not just blindly accepting what your child wants. That your feelings count just as much as your child.

    • Amy, I agree with you absolutely that parents can put their viewpoints forward without being disrespectful to children! For me it was a process to learn how to do it without being disrespectful because I had very few models of this growing up. Even when I became a parent I didn’t see many people model what it meant to be able to respect a child’s viewpoint when am adult held a different viewpoint. I think what is often emphasized in societies where a child’s point of view is not generally respected or is diminished in some way is that the adult point of view always wins out. Learning how to do it differently, even seeing a different possibility can be a challenge when in general we don’t see it modeled. And I think the key that you point out so well is how to find a place that works for everyone, and in addition that in different environments there may be different needs to consider.

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