Open Communication with Your Child – Ages 5 to 13
Trust and dependence upon the parent or caregiver begin the moment a child is born! As your child grows, consistency with positive parenting skills will set the tone for a closely connected relationship between child and parent. By the time your child reaches school age (5 or 6 years old) they will have hopefully formed a relationship with you based on trust. Children’s psychosocial development from the ages of five to thirteen begins with more self-awareness, awareness of others and the world around them. They become more inquisitive and adventurous. Their increased self-awareness will highlight their gifts, talents and challenges. Encouragement and confidence are very important because comparison of themselves to others will increase. They will listen to conversations others their age (or older) will have and be inquisitive. Some things other children talk about they will be familiar with, while other things they will not understand. The world around them is enlarging and so is the knowledge and awareness of several topics. Below is a list of true questions they may be having but have not yet verbalized to you.
*Mommy, am I pretty?
*Daddy, am I strong?
*Am I smart?
*Am I fat?
*Am I stupid?
*Why does ______not like me?
*My teacher likes _______ more than me.
*I’m not very smart like ______.
*Where did I come from?
*I heard ________talking about sex. What does “sex” mean?
*Why was I born a girl?
*Why was I born a boy?
*Someone likes me. Can I have a boyfriend?
*I think _________is pretty and funny. Can she be my girlfriend?
*Why do _______’s parents not live together?
*Will you and daddy/mommy ever get a divorce?
Do you think they will come to you and talk about what they are thinking or will another child be their first go to person? Another child will be someone they talk to first sometimes, however if you have built a positive encouraging relationship with them then they will come to you frequently first. If your child believes they will disappoint or anger you, they will probably not be willing to communicate with you unless you have shown disappointment or anger expressed correctly. (Expressing your anger in the right way is important, i.e. without yelling or criticizing.) Set the stage early for a healthy foundation of trust by being open to listen, validating their feelings, never making them feel unimportant or unintelligent, encourage instead of criticize. No matter what your opinion may be as a parent, still be willing to listen. They will trust your leadership and love for them far more if they feel safe to express their thoughts. You can still say your thoughts and be the parent without demeaning or getting angry where they are afraid to communicate with you. The positive foundation you set when they are younger will carry you and them through the “rocky” teenage years with less tension and more respect and understanding.
Let me end with this short example. A friend of mine has a little girl who is about eight or nine years old. Last year her daughter told her that a girlfriend liked a little boy. Not thinking much about it and teasingly mom commented, “well you better not go a get yourself a boyfriend” or something to that affect. Mom was teasing her daughter and although she may not want her to have a boyfriend at that young age, mom knows that little crushes do happen and she is alright with that. However, mom did not realize her daughter took the comment very serious! This year a little boy started liking her daughter and her daughter had a little crush on him too. Mom suspected it but her daughter wasn’t openly telling her. One day her daughter’s girlfriend told her mom that her daughter liked this one boy but was afraid to tell her. When mom casually asked her daughter if she liked this little boy, her daughter at first denied it. Her mom then revealed someone told her she liked the little boy and it was okay to tell her. Her daughter broke down crying and said “I do like him mommy but I was afraid you would be mad at me if I told you.” This hit home to my friend and her casual words last year in teasing stuck with her daughter and caused her to not be open with her mom. The mom was crushed and learned a valuable lesson about choosing words wisely, and making a safe place for her child to talk.
There are so many things children need to be able to tell their parents. Make a safe place for them to speak their mind and ask you questions before they go and ask others who may not give them the same safe advice or guidance.