“How did you sleep last night?”
“How has your day been so far?”
“What did you do today that made you smile?”
“When was the last time you cried?”
While these questions if asked to your kids out of nowhere may seem nosey or interrogating, when used regularly, they can allow you to get to know them better and stay more connected to their internal worlds. When we become curious about our children in a respectful way, it allows them to open up about their lives without being defensive. Since curiosity does not involve judgement, which is one of the things that teenagers dread the most from their parents, it can empower us and them to create or increase open dialogue together. Curiosity allows us to look at our kids and learn about them just as we would learn about anything or anyone else. Curiosity starts with a lack of judgement followed by a sense of distance that allows us to get a different perspective than we may have had when they were younger. Sometimes since we live with our kids, we think that we understand and know them so well, but they are growing and changing every day. These changes lead to differences in every area of their lives. If we expect to hold onto our kids through adolescence and adulthood, it is important that we learn how to be good students of them as people who are evolving with every breath they take.
As a professional counselor who has worked with kids for over 20 years, we continually use questions like the ones above along with phrases like “tell me more.” and “Is there anything else you would like to share with me about this?” This approach of discovery while withholding judgement, allows us to bond with them in the initial stages of the counseling process. Kids want to feel safe sharing their fears and struggles and want to feel their internal thoughts and emotions are normal. Counselors validate and normalize kids inner worlds allowing them to open up and create change putting the child in the driver’s seat with adult guidance. Part of joining with a kid is walking through their lives beside them in a way that allows them to be willing to show their real true selves without needing to fix them immediately. Advice giving and attempts to fix shuts kids down because it send the message that they are broken in need of repair instead of normal learning to overcome their own struggles.
Parents can use these same approaches in their homes. Approaching your kids with curiosity and validation creates opportunities for their children to open up to them through the tumultuous years when they are rapidly changing. By using questions to create direction, it also empowers kids to make healthy decisions. I often ask kids in my office and my children are home, “How do you see yourself solving this problem?” Following up with, “Is there anything else you might try?” further develops their problem solving abilities.
Yes, sometimes holding our tongues and our facial expressions is a huge challenge, but in the long run, learning more about your child can be really worth the restraint. Hopefully, using the process of curiosity can empower us to find new aspects to appreciate about them. I know I have with my own 13-year-old daughter. It is important to me every day that I not only ask great questions, but that I am curious about her by watching her silently in the most non creepy way possible. By watching her facial expressions, how much she interacts with her friends, and even how her routines are changing, I learn about her moods, life stressors, and how she is developing habits that will hopefully serve her well as she becomes an adult. This type of curiosity allows me as a parent to discover areas in which she may be struggling (and silently observe for a short time period allowing her to attempt her own recovery. When we notice our kids own internal emotional management skills kick in, we can celebrate their joy and positive change. Finally, connect to your child by being curious together. Taking risks and trying new things with your children create memories that bond for a lifetime. You can also process the experience together before, during, and after the event. I use these times to do emotion coaching expanding their emotional vocabulary and modeling vulnerability during what often become memorable moments for both of us. The photo in the article is a shot we took of my daughter and myself when visited Branson’s Promise Land Zoo. We upgraded to an experience where we got to interact with the lemurs. We had no idea how interactive they would be. I admit the thought of them climbing all over me made me nervous, but I have no regrets as I see the joy and laughter on both our faces.
Michelle Nietert, MA, LPC-S has been counseling kids and their families for over two decades. A previous middle school, high school and district wide crisis counselor, Michelle joins her parenting audience in the trenches with two school aged children. You can discover her mental health and parenting resources at michellenietert.com Her book Loved and Cherished for girls releases in September 2020. She and her coauthor Lynn Cowell share resources at lovedandcherished.me.