What Do Children Want?
What do children want? They want time with their parents. During that time, they want their parents' undivided attention. They want their parents to listen to them in a respectful way, without correcting them. Parents are the most important people in their children's lives. Our children are the most important people in our lives.
We must work hard to see that our children get the time they need with us. Ideally, each child needs one-on-one time with each parent. For the oldest child, this time can be scheduled after the other children are asleep. For younger children, perhaps there is a time when siblings are involved in an outside activity or are visiting friends or relatives.
It might be easier to give your child undivided attention if you and she leave the house. Taking a walk together can be helpful and enjoyable. Or, perhaps you can take your child to a restaurant or a park. Use this time to focus on the child. Do not talk about problems. Talk to the child about the child. Tell your child "this is our special time together." Show your child that this time is very important to you.
If it seems like there is nothing to talk about, ask your child what were the best and worst things that happened that day/week, or what he dreamed about the previous night. Let your child know that you are interested in his thoughts and feelings. During this special time together, do not criticize in any way. Do not correct your child. Listen, and show interest in whatever comes up in conversation. Talk about whatever your child wants to talk about.
Don't be afraid to reveal information about yourself. Was there a time during your childhood when you made a mistake? Tell your child about it, and tell him how it made you feel. Did you quarrel with your best friend when you were a child? Tell your child about it. What happened to cause the disagreement? What did you do to solve the problem? Your child might be able to realize that "mom/dad really was a kid once."
This special time will help you to form a close relationship with your child. Setting this time aside for your child will tell him that he is important to you. If he knows that you care for him and accept him as an individual, he will learn to trust you, and if a problem arises, he is more likely to bring it to you.
Taking this special time to be with your child does not mean that his entire need to be heard has been taken care of. Whenever your child talks to you about something, try to give him your undivided attention. If possible, stop what you are doing and look directly into his eyes (research has shown that the more eye contact a child receives from others, the more often he gives this type of focused attention to others). If it is not possible for you to stop when asked for your attention, ask your child to wait until you are finished, and then listen with undivided attention and respect.
If you cultivate your relationship with your child by listening to her and talking with her, you help to keep the lines of communication open between you. Your child will feel loved and special to you if you give her your time and attention. When the lines of communication between parent and child are open, the child is more likely to come to you with a problem or concern. When I hear about a child who was sexually abused for years and did not tell his/her parents, I wonder if things might have been different if this parent and child had had regular times together just to talk in a trusting way.
When you notice that something is bothering your child, ask him if he wants to talk about it. He may say, "you won't understand." One answer might be "I'd like to understand. When you're ready to talk about it, I'll be here to listen." If your child does not respond, do not pressure him to talk about it. Just let him know that you are available.
Try to make opportunities to talk with your child. Look for these opportunities. If you are on your way home from an errand with one of your children, take this time to talk. Whenever possible, ask your child's opinion or ask him to tell you something you don't know. A little boy I once knew was an expert on cars and motorcycles. One time he saw a certain motorcycle and said "Wow!" I asked him to tell me the name of it, and any other information he knew about it. His face lit up and he happily told me all that he knew. My 12-year-old daughter is an expert on shampoos and conditioners. The other day I asked her what type of conditioner I might purchase to moisturize my dry hair. She was surprised to hear her mom ask for advice and she was happy to show me what kind she thought would work best. She was pleased when I purchased it, and happy to hear my opinion after I used it.
Those of us who are fortunate to be parents have many demands on our time and energy. It may take a real effort to find the time to talk to and listen to our children. I do not believe anyone has ever regretted spending time with and listening to his or her children. Indeed, a deep regret expressed by many seniors is that they wish they had spent more time with their children when they had the chance.
Carolyn Simmons, B.A. Sociology, works with parents who have children in foster care and with families who are at risk for foster care. She lives in New York State with her three daughters.