Do you know who your children are?

Summer nights right before the news there was a public service announcement: It’s 10 o’clock, do you know where your children are?

What I’d like to hear today is this:  Do you know who your children are?

When parents or grandparents contact me asking for advice about how to handle a child who is being defiant, lying, disrespectful…the list goes on…I usually respond first with, “Did you ask your child why they are behaving in this way?”

To understand our children, to know who they truly are, we have to watch, we have to ask questions, and we have to listen to those answers even if we might not care for the responses.

Usually children who are having difficulties feel a bond of trust has been broken with an important adult in their lives.  This can be a difficult thing to hear in reply to our questions.   A difficult child is a discouraged child.  There are four key ways we discourage our children with negative expectations, focusing on mistakes, perfectionism and overprotection.

Usually if we can ask “why” five times we will uncover a fundamental truth or root cause of a problem.  In the process we may also discover what our children are thinking and feeling. We might uncover our children’s values, their hopes and their dreams, which may or may not be the same hopes, values and dreams we have for them.

We also have to respect our children and their potential to learn and grow from the challenges they face.   “I trust you will make a good decision,” is a powerful statement of respect to our children.  We have to have faith that our children will respond with ability when the time comes.  We need to believe that our children are miraculous beings living on a planet that hurls through space at 1.3 million miles an hour in the Milky Way Galaxy.  Our children’s potential is cosmic in its proportions.

Eight year-old Sarah lied repeatedly to her parents.  Sara didn’t tell the truth about taking a bath, eating her breakfast, turning in her homework and other things.  Jim and Martha used the five why’s technique to try to discover what Sarah was thinking and feeling.

“Sarah, your teacher called and said you hadn’t turned in your homework all week long,” Martha said.  “Why would you tell me that you did your homework and turned it in?”

“Because I didn’t want to turn it in,” Sarah said.

“Why wouldn’t you want to turn in your homework if you had finished it?’”

“I just didn’t,” said Sarah.

Seeing that this line of questioning wasn’t productive, Jim said,  “Did you realize that by telling your mom and me that you turned in your homework when you didn’t, that you lied?”

“I didn’t lie.”

“Why would you say you didn’t lie?” said Jim.

“Because no one asked me if I turned in my homework.  I didn’t lie.  I didn’t say anything,” Sarah said.

“Why wouldn’t you tell us about your homework?” Martha said.

“Because you’d get upset.”

“Why do you think we’d get upset?” Martha said.

“Because I don’t want to go to mean old Mrs. Jones class next year.  If I don’t turn in my papers I’ll flunk and I can stay in my class and not go to fourth grade.”

In a few minutes Jim and Martha had uncovered some of Sarah’s thinking and feelings in a way that a lecture or punishment could never do.

Know who your children are by using respectful methods of watching, questioning and listening to understand their hopes, dreams, values, thinking and feelings.

Blue Ribbon News special contributor, author, Montessori educator, and child behavior specialist Maren Schmidt.

Read more from Maren Schmidt:

Why it’s important to establish routines with our children

Think before you talk

An iron hand in a velvet glove

The best gift we can give our children

Children ain’t misbehavin’

Montessori teachers credo: to be a help to life

Written by Blue Ribbon News special contributor Maren Schmidt, Kids Talk TM deals with childhood development issues.  Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has more than 25 years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of Building Cathedrals Not Walls: Essays for Parents and Teachers.  Contact her at  Copyright 2012.

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