I ran across a short video clip on Facebook today that has been bothering me, so I want to talk about it. A mother was screaming and threatening her teenage son because he told her he was an atheist. She was shouting expletives and carrying on like a crazed woman (not the best example of a Christian by far). Then she approached her son, swung his chair around to face her and shouted in his face that he would not be receiving any Christmas presents because Christmas was about Jesus Christ (her exact words). Just wow!
Now, whether you believe the way the mother does or you side with her son here, you have to agree that her behavior was off base….tremendously. As I sat and mulled over her actions I couldn’t help but feel that somewhere along the line she did something right, and probably without even realizing it. Her son obviously learned somehow to think for himself, to not follow the status quo simply because. He had made up his mind about what he believed, not what he was told to believe. Her reaction to his confession was over the top inappropriate and did nothing towards opening up a line of communication. If her aim was to change his mind she went about it the exact opposite way she should have.
It’s important to point out here that as parents, our job is to guide our children and teach them how to think for themselves and how to process their emotions. We don’t get to decide what they think, nor how they feel. As Judge Judy would say, “that requires the operation of their mind” and no one is capable of that but the individual themselves. It doesn’t matter if that individual is 80 years old or 8 months old. Our thoughts, our beliefs and our feelings are ours alone from the cradle to the grave. As parents we can shape and mold our kids into rational, compassionate, productive thinkers. It requires effort and consistency and an ability to allow the child their own thoughts.
One way to accomplish this is by giving your child a voice. A kid should have some control over situations that directly affect them. It can be something as simple as asking your two year old if he wants pancakes or eggs for breakfast. I always gave my daughters a voice in decisions that affected them. I had the final say because I was mom, but there were times when they actually changed my mind when their side was presented to me and had validity. This resulted in them asking for my opinion on choices they would normally make on their own.
Communication is everything when raising a child. You have to talk to your children but you also must listen. REALLY listen. One of my favorite quotes says, “Your child is not giving you a hard time, he’s having a hard time.” When you speak calmly to your kid and ask them to explain what they’re feeling, or thinking, it gives them the power of control over their emotions. Often the situation is diffused just by the communication.
Do you think the mother in the situation I described above was opening the lines of communication with her son? No. Quite the contrary. She managed to shut him down without allowing him the courtesy to feel his own emotions and think his own thoughts. She did both of them a huge disservice. If you allow your child to talk to you without blaming or shaming him, you gain his trust. When your child talks to you openly, and you listen with compassion and understanding about the little things, your child learns to trust you and talk to you about the big things. It provides an infinite wealth of teaching moments and that really is what parenting is all about.
Talk to your child. Listen to your child. Keep the lines of communication open. Don’t judge. Don’t shame. Don’t blame. Allow your child their own thoughts and emotions. Give him or her a voice in decisions that affect them. And shower them with love. A lot of love. You will both be a lot happier.