I always appreciate it when my kids tell me things that happened in their lives. I try to respond in a way that keeps the conversation going; keeps us talking. I also like getting to know them a little deeper, and sometimes I’m at a loss as to what to say that doesn’t impart my judgment onto their unique situation. I want to ask what they think (more than I want to tell them what I think).
So I ask, “How was that for you?”
It’s different than conveying my own reaction, offering my own advice, or telling them what I think. “Oh, that wasn’t very nice of your friend! He shouldn’t have said that. You should tell him to…”
Instead, there is much more value in focusing the conversation on a child’s own reaction to what happened. It helps them process their emotions without any external influence. No judgment of right/ wrong, good/ bad, should have/ shouldn’t have…We don’t decide how they should feel, they do.
For example…(and these are examples of conversations between my kids and me; my instinctual response versus what I said instead that elicited some thoughtful decisions):
JJ: Mom when I was at playing at the park some kids wouldn’t let me play in their game.
My instinctual response: Oh no! That’s not right. You should…
Me: Oh really? How was that for you?
JJ: Not good! Because I really wanted to play.
Me: You were left out.
JJ: Yeah, and that wasn’t nice!
Me: You felt hurt?
JJ: Yeah! I would never do that to someone who wanted to play!
Or this example of an enjoyable experience:
Elia: A girl in my class didn’t understand the work today, so I helped her until she got it.
My instinctual response: That was so nice of you! I’m glad you did that for her.
Me: Yeah? How was that?
Elia: Fine. She just had a hard time with some of the examples. So I walked around to her desk and helped her.
Me: What did she say?
Elia: She said ‘Elia how do you do this?’ So I showed her.
Me: And how did it go?
Elia: Good. I think she liked working with someone. And I liked helping her.
Say fewer words, give fewer judgments, ask open-ended questions, help kids find their own feelings about their experiences. Rather than tell, ask. It will help them develop emotional awareness and a strong inner compass when it comes to behavior–even when no one is there to evaluate and give feedback.