We don’t always think about the work involved in developing good relationships, which is even more work when the other person is a child. Who can even remember back to what it felt like to be 5 years old? … or 8 years old? … how about being a feisty 15-year old? Parents tend to loop children into broad categories of ‘toddler’, ‘youngster’, ‘middle schooler’, or “teenager’ without really thinking about the thinking ability, communication skills, and mental processes of each year of development. And each age has specific and definitive differences, also special to each child. Understanding each age can greatly advance parent-child communication.
Here’s a good exercise to help you get mentally in to each age. Take some time to sit quietly and reflect back to your own childhood, and recall a defining event of each year. Think back to kindergarten – what do you recall? I recall the nuns publically spanking a classmate (yup, over the knee with his pants pulled down!) and I was scared of that happening to me. I recall the next day throwing a fit refusing to get on the bus to go to school, and dropped out that day, never to return to kindergarten. When I need to know how a 5-year old thinks, all I need to do is to go back to that memory and instantly all the thoughts and feelings rush back to me.
How about 1st grade? Keep going and lock in a memory from each year of your childhood – proud moments, sad moments, defining moments that sum up the emotions and thinking of the age that was. Once you have this resource available to you – one memory to summarize each year – be sure to pull it out and use it when you need it with your own growing children.
When we are in any relationship, the operating process is:
1) Determine what the person’s need(s) are
2) Determine what the person’s want(s) are
3) Determine what the necessary ‘give(s)’ are
4) Determine what the necessary ‘take(s)’ are
This is no different for parents, except when determining what the child perceived needs are versus what their stated wants, you must take into account their appropriate age. And you can’t do that without mentally recalling that age in your head. What’s logical thinking for an adult (“You don’t really need another pair of jeans; the jeans you have are perfectly fine.”) may not be logical for a 13-year old (“I’m the only loser in 8th grade wearing last year’s style.”).
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: Once you determine how to behave in any relationship (with love, respect, and trust), have you communicated it to the person? Does your child know that you love, respect, and trust them? If you don’t know – ask them! If you do know, how do you know? And if you do know, it still doesn’t ever hurt to tell them so, repeatedly – why wouldn’t you? Love, respect and trust in adults are earned; in your children they should be automatic. Young children do not break trust out of malice; they just think like children, which adults have forgotten about. Older children may break trust intentionally because they have been taught by adult role models that the behavior is acceptable.