Is the Child Free to Think?

Are you ever reminded of a time in the past that you wish you had handled differently?

When it comes to relationships I often am.  Today while shopping for a few miscellaneous things in Walmart a small child was slapped by the man pushing her cart.  She was whining a little, trying to say something she was interested in.  Kids are always wanting something when they are paraded through the aisles of a store, that’s human nature.  This particular child wasn’t even obnoxious as many I have heard tend to get when wanting something. He was loud, forceful, and totally rude.  He certainly stopped her from asking for whatever it was and there was no more whining, just a low, pitiful cry from her tiny voice.

This pushed me into instant depression, despite my efforts to let it go in my head.  When I get depressed I often revert back to all the things I’ve done wrong in my life.  I become full of regret, mostly regarding my children.

On my drive home, trying to pull myself away from dwelling in regret, I wanted to share my wisdom with someone in the hopes of lessening their potential for future regret.  It’s like that with any knowledge I get, I always think of who I want to share it with.  I had hit on this thought of a parent listening to what their child thinks without blowing them off or telling them they shouldn’t think like that, no matter what.

Since Leia is the “wind beneath my wings” I thought of things I wanted to say to her mother.  This little girl is often the reason I stay afloat some days.  If she is sad, I feel her devastation most deeply.  When she is happy and delighted about something I, too, am all smiles.

Here is what I wish I had done with my children: Listen to what they are feeling without adding judgment.  This is critical to get them to trust us with their whole being.  As it is, it seems they are only free to tell us what they think we want to hear.  What if we let them tell us about the negative thoughts, also?  Unfortunately, a parent wants to squelch that negative notion, and thereby banishing their fears.  That doesn’t seem to be working out well.  Telling a 5 year old not to have negative thoughts – how is that working out?

It’s not just about any negative thought the child has, they may have a variety of likes and dislikes they are told to forget, to keep to themselves.  Shouldn’t we try to understand all those thoughts our child has?  If we do we may better understand what makes them function as they do – sweet or naughty.

Getting a child to feel comfortable revealing anything to the parent allows for much better communication between the two.  I wish I had done that so maybe my children would have come to me with what was bothering them, with what they perceived was troubling in their life.  It is human nature to seek comfort and relief in some form or another, unfortunately, that avenue could be self-destructive.  Or, at the minimum, they can choose to distance themselves from us and we will never really know them at the heart.

What should we do then, just let them have negative thoughts?  No, we don’t want that.  What we should want if for the child to be comfortable with telling us everything because this is a test of what kind of relationship bond the two are to have later on.  We listen first and when the child is ready to hear a solution then we offer one.  I don’t believe we help them over their fear by simply telling them to “get over it”.

Here is a simplified example of an exchange.

Mom: Please go pick out your jammies, its bath time.

Child: I can’t.

Parent: Why not?

Child: My room is dark.

Parent: Well, turn on the light!

Child: I’m scared of the dark.

This is where the parent may resort to yelling at the child to get over it, right?

What if we opened up a dialogue with the child to discover what was really going on.  Maybe the child is apprehensive about what might be in the dark, or struggles to reach the right spot for the light, or doesn’t want to get the jammies because it means bath time which inevitable means bed time and wants to procrastinate against that.  It doesn’t matter what, it is a chance to explore what is going on in the child’s mind.  If it is just the fear of the dark, perhaps the child can wait for a moment and the parent will accompany the child so they both can check out what waits in the dark.  Soon enough the child lets go of the fear because so far there wasn’t anything to be afraid of for sure.  As for the rest of the reasons, the parent has honestly listened to and acknowledged the child, and moves on in the natural order of events.  Even if the child didn’t get her way, she got herself heard, and there is quite some satisfaction in that.

It doesn’t have to be complicated if we just pause before spouting out what they “should” think.  We should never tell them they are stupid for thinking that or feeling that way. They can’t help what they think at a tender age, they need to be guided by someone they can trust to understand, no matter what.

One of my biggest fears today is that I will not be understood and accepted for who I really am.  Relationships are still very hard for me, I can’t open up and share my true feelings.  It takes a good amount of openness for strong relationships with others to develop.

Let’s listen to what someone thinks, without being judgmental. Our little ones need to know that what they think just is and can be dealt with without judgment against their person, and is not something to be hushed and buried.