As a child psychologist, I hear the things children want to talk about with their parents, if they could.
As a child psychologist, I get to talk to many children about lots of subjects they’re afraid to bring up with their parents and wish they could (and probably should).
I’m not talking about smarting off or trying to get something they want; I’m talking about matters of heart, mind, and soul, and issues that influence our lives over the generations. They are the kinds of things I wish (but kind of don’t wish, from an emotional sense) that my own kids would say to me if they felt it was needed. So, in no particular order, here are a few things I’ve heard other kids say, and your kids might be thinking, too:
1. “Why do I have to apologize when my dad doesn’t?”
Kids begin to learn right and wrong in the first few years of life, initially from what their parents and other authority figures tell them. Although adults retain a “pedestal” status for a little longer after morality begins to develop, it isn’t long before children start to notice how we as parents respond to our mistakes. School-age children pick up on whether their parents acknowledge their own overreactions, blunders, or misattributions. Over time, this not only influences a child’s perception of how impenetrable parents are in regards to their own errors, it also influences the likelihood that a child or adolescent will apologize themselves.
2. “Why is he [mom’s boyfriend] living in the house when they just got divorced?”
I’ve been struck by the number of times over the years that parents are quick to make decisions about their living situation without even mentioning this new arrangement to their kids, as if it is synonymous with moving a new dresser into the bedroom. As a parent once told me, this is an “adult decision” and not theirs to make. Well, yes, it’s an adult decision, but it can severely affect your child in so many ways and should be treated as such.
Beyond changes in living situations, it’s also interesting that kids pick up on the friendships that their parents have and can note inconsistencies about whom their parents want them to “hang out” with versus who mom or dad does. If you, the adult, have a friend who’s a drinking, cursing, crass individual and you’re trying to convince your kid to move onto a “better” crowd, it might be a difficult sell.
3. “I hate when she smokes because I don’t want mom to die.”
Whether it’s eating or smoking or drinking or any other bad habit, kids are saddened by their parents’ unhealthiness. Beyond any discomfort or awkwardness this habit may cause them, kids no doubt hate to see their parents struggling with habits that cause them pain. The opposite is also true; kids love to talk and spread the word about ways their parents are thriving in various ways.
4. “Mom and dad always argue and they get mad over everything.”
This is probably one of the most common things I hear. Now, with every perceived reality is always the question of where the truth lies, and I no doubt feel that in some instances, this statement doesn’t always reflect the real climate of the household. But in some homes it does, and it exposes a level of tension that kids know full well is both unhealthy and stifling. They are keenly attuned to our irritability and edginess, and they sense that angry statements outnumber happy ones in the house.
5. “He never does it, so why should I have to?”
I’ve had more than one boy comment that his father never seems to get off the couch and help, so why should he? Again, there are times where double standards with parents and kids are appropriate (e.g., you can’t drive, but I can) and where responsibilities aren’t necessarily going to be arranged in a perfect symmetrical fashion. But I have to remind myself regularly of what I know. If I want my kids to develop in certain areas and take on new tasks, I have to show the capability and regularity of doing so myself. Otherwise, I sure am not backing up what I say with what I do.
6. “I never hear anything about the good things I do.”
As a parent, it takes almost no reflective thought to comment when our kids get in arguments, leave clothes on the floor, or plug the toilet with an insane amount of toilet paper. But noting the times they do well, or comply well with mundane requests, isn’t always the first things that come to our minds or tongues. Yet all the available research would say that regular comments about went right will not only help the relationships we have, but diminish the likelihood of things going wrong.
7. “I really do care about what they think of me.”
I think it’s important to end on a positive note even if our kids (especially adolescents) are reluctant to admit it. As our children get older, they may act as if they don’t care what we think about them and what they do. Yet if the labels of Mom and Dad reflect the time and attention we have given them, then they care more than we know, and even they know. It’s embedded into the deep recesses of their minds and in the mannerisms and statements that probably appear eerily familiar. They may not always like you, but the hope is they will always love you.
And maybe, just maybe, this time they will actually say it.