Friday, February 22, 2013

Will Mummy Lose It, Will Daddy Understand?

Too often we hear of stories of teens keeping all sorts of secrets from their parents. Kids don’t just come up to a parent and say things like “I know you want me to get As in school and I have a chance to cheat in the test; what should I do?”  How many girls tell their mums when they embark on their first relationship? Or when they lose their virginity? How many boys tell their fathers they are drinking or smoking or have been offered drugs?  Children keep hiding information from their parents.

Perhaps they think they know it all? Naaah! they ask their friends for advice because they know Mummy is going to lose it and Dad just won't understand.

I'm no Jesus, but I was tempted in every way too so I can't act like I don't know what my daughter is talking about when she says her friends want to get tattoos. My friends wanted to get tattoos too and some did, I didn't and and these are what informed my decisions (other than the fact that my mum would have whipped me black and blue).  We cannot direct our children with only metaphorical metaphors and analogies; we have to build trust.

Many of us just couldn't open up to our Mums when that fine boy, we had a crush on, finally asked us out. We felt she would never understand, perhaps the generational gap is an issue etc but that trust was just absent.

How often do you listen to all the details of their indeterminable day, her primary school friends, who said what etc or do you have "more important" things on your mind?

It’s hard to pay attention when you’re rushing to prepare food for dinner and get home, but if you aren't really listening, two things happen. You miss an opportunity to learn about and teach your child, and she learns that you don’t really listen, so there’s not much point in talking in the first place.

A lot of kids are afraid they’ll create an even bigger problem by talking with their parents. Prove they can trust you to support them without losing your cool when they tell you about being bullied, that way, you’ll get to hear about the boys in their crowd shoplifting when they’re a few years older. How? In tough moments, listen and listen more. Get yourself calm before you even open your mouth. Think of friends you really feel comfortable talking to. They're usually calm, open, and not pushy. Use those same listening strategies whenever you're with your child. 

When your kids are little, start talking about the hard things; from special circumstances like being a single parent or Grandpa’s alcoholism, to the conversations that unnerve most parents, like sex. If you act natural, and keep your references short and matter of fact, sooner or later you’ll feel natural, and your kids will be comfortable building on those discussions to ask questions and talk about their own feelings.  Children in families that tackle tough issues early are more likely to consult their parents as they grow. Try tailoring the conversation around your child's interests: her movie collection,  her Barbie doll, his iPod downloads. Doing so might be a great way to start discussing what's really going on in your son or daughter's life. 

Parents really need to take it easy with the criticism. If you need to bite your tongue to stop those critical, judgmental comments, do so. Don't come off like a prosecutor or judge. Nothing stops a conversation faster than those "You should have" kind of comments.

Asking specific questions and questions that elicit more than a one-word response like "How would you have ended that book?", "What are your feelings about tattoos? " are good because that way we get a picture of their internal dialogue which is priceless.

Let's start early,  if they can trust you with the little stuff they will trust you with the big stuff.

Ijeoma Olujekun.

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