Have your kids ever said something that causes your heart to drop into your stomach because it is so upsetting or shocking?
Kids can say all sorts of disturbing things, particularly when they are young—even words like, “I want to die!” or “I’m going to kill you!”
Sometimes these words point to a major problem that requires intervention, but often, they are the words of a child who is heated with emotions or who does not truly understand the meaning of the words they are saying.
In any case, here is a good mantra to remember for these moments: Stay calm. Be curious.
Stay calm because sometimes the adult’s reaction is much, much worse than the problem, and it gives the child too much attention for something that might not need attention.
When they realize they get your attention by saying horrifying things, they might amp up on attention-seeking behavior.
On the other hand, some children will shut down, worried that they have upset you.
Instead, be curious so you can determine whether the words reflect an actual problem. When a child says something horrifying, you might simply respond with, "What do you mean? Tell me more."
Oftentimes, we assign unnecessary meaning to a child’s words without determining what the child actually meant.
For instance, when a child says she wants to kill herself, it’s normal to jump to worst-case scenario: “Oh my God! Don't say that! You mustn't say that!"
But the child might be using hyperbole. Or perhaps the child is just joking and using an unpleasant but otherwise harmless figure of speech.
On the other hand, if the child has an actual problem that needs to be addressed through intervention or therapy, calm curiosity provides the safe environment necessary to encourage the child to disclose more information.
Big responses can scare a child. The child might think they have said something wrong and might shut down, change the subject, or cover up their true feelings to appease the adult.
In serious situations, we want to keep the lines of communication open. We never want to tell children not to say things when, in fact, we very much want them to come to us with their problems.
Beyond that, when you start having conversations that place curiosity before judgment, you learn how to read your kids. When you meet your children with calm curiosity, this allows you to practice extracting information so that when you are faced with a big problem (or a problem you do not know how to solve) you have the experience to calmly ask questions and figure out what your children really mean by their words—and therefore what they need.
The conversation is the relationship.When you have good conversations with your kids, you have good relationships with your kids.
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