Kids are people, too



 

 

By Daniel Bobinski



   Every day, our kids — no matter how small — are gaining knowledge that builds upon who they are, just like they will do the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, too many parents let those moments slip past, missing many opportunities to deepen their relationships with their children as individuals.

Complicating the problem, as a society we have developed the strange habit of treating kids as a sub-species for 17 years, and then BAM — on their 18th birthday our kids suddenly become real people. It’s like, “Ta-da! You’re 18 now. Welcome to personhood. Enjoy!”

A child’s transition to independence is necessary, but often difficult. What if we did things differently with our kids to make the transition easier? What if we built relationships with our children in ways that reinforced their individualism while strengthening our relationships with them at the same time?

I credit my wife for reinforcing this philosophy within me, because it’s a wonder to watch her interact with children (I’m talking both small kids and teens). We can walk up to a group of adults who have younger children with them, but the kids are essentially being ignored. We watch as they come up to their parents to share an insight they just gained or some experience that made them go “wow,” and the parents will offer a placating nod and say something like, “That’s nice — now run along and play.” By watching the kids closely, I often see a brief twinge of disappointment on their faces, but then they dutifully run off and experience more from which to learn.

Enter my wife. I’ve seen her sit down in such gatherings and before long, all the kids are coming to her — and not their own parents — to share their discoveries. Why? Because she engages them in real conversation. She truly listens to them, striving to understand their thoughts and feelings, and asking them questions that help them connect the dots in their learning. She engages them as the real people they are, not burdensome rug rats. 

The way my wife engages people as individuals is not limited to small children. She interacts this way with teens and adults, too.

This idea of interacting more purposefully with our kids was recently illustrated in something that happened to a friend of ours. This woman has two teenage boys, and while accompanying them to an event they wanted to attend, she gave one of the boys an instruction to go do something. After her young teen went off to do it, a man in his early 20’s who was standing nearby asked our friend if she always told her boys what to do. Our friend said she rolled her eyes a bit, slightly offended that someone in his early 20’s would be questioning how she parents her kids. She was tired and under a lot of stress at the time, but she bit her tongue and listened while the man suggested that she spend more time playing with her young teens, such as more time watching and discussing movies with them, and even time playing video games with them. 

She told us she was seething inside at the young man’s “audacity” to advise her on how to be a parent, but there was something in that exchange that stayed with her. Over the following days as she pondered his words, she says she found a new perspective. “This young man cared enough about my children and family to say something,” she stated. “He knows nothing about how our family functions and he saw something out of context, but it raised a red flag for him and he said something. And, his advice was actually spot-on!”

Perhaps one of the largest obstacles to connecting with our children is our struggle in balancing efficiency with effectiveness. Those who are familiar with Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” will recall that efficiency has to do with time — getting things done quickly — and effectiveness has to do with getting things done right. Think of it this way: You’re driving along and the rear tire on the driver’s side of your car goes flat. You stop the car, and in record time, you break out the spare and change the rear tire on the passenger side. This silly example illustrates the difference. You were efficient by changing the tire in record time, but you were ineffective because you changed the wrong tire.

I know that I can be guilty of striving for efficiency in my conversations with kids and teens. When I think about it, too often I’m like those parents who nod and then send the kids off so I can have a conversation with my fellow adults.

It’s efficient, but it’s not effective.

When I think about the ripple effects of such behavior, I realize it can also be costly. Those “efficient” conversations can create missing or weak threads in the tapestry of family unity.

We parents don’t need to have all the answers. We don’t have to be right all the time, and we certainly shouldn’t strive for efficient conversations in which we parents are deciding everything. As I’m learning by watching my wife, kids become more comfortable and confident in their own skin when we have purposeful, intentional conversations with them that focus on how they are perceiving and processing the world around them. Grandparents seem to understand this more than parents, but no matter what our age, we are (hopefully) always gaining knowledge on a daily basis — and helping our kids do the same.

In summary, our kids’ brains don’t suddenly turn on when they hit age 18 — they are individuals from day one. And I think we adults can help children grow into confident adults by valuing (and sometimes respectfully challenging) their thoughts, feelings, and the learning they experience along the way. Truly listening and truly engaging them, striving for relationship, not efficiency.

 

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is the CEO of Workplace-Excellence.com, helping teams and individuals learn how to use Emotional Intelligence. He’s also a homeschooling dad, a best-selling author, and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (208) 375-7606.